It was a gorgeous day in Flowery Branch, and it was the first opportunity for fans to see the 2014 Falcons in action on the practice fields for the first day of minicamp. If you weren't able to attend, never fear. We've got you covered.
The minicamp structure is pretty similar to training camp, with a nice mix of position drills and full team drills. These are no-contact practices, so what we can learn about how the team is shaping up is pretty limited, however, it is nice to see the offseason acquisitions and draft picks in action and start to get a sense of how things are coming together on both sides of the ball.
- Matt Ryan looks to have locked up the starting quarterback spot. Haha, just kidding, of course he has. Davis has been taking second team reps, Renfree third team. Both look fine, and I think this is a pretty close race. I don't think of Davis as much of a scrambler, but he did have a nice, long scramble as his pocket collapsed this afternoon. Smitty also had some praise for the undrafted free agent quarterback they have in camp this season, Jeff Matthews out of Cornell after practice.
- Roddy White is being held out of OTAs as a precaution. White and Julio Jones are actually serving in somewhat of a coach and mentor role while they're not actively practicing, so they're still pretty involved with what's happening on the field. Matt Ryan looked to have pretty good chemistry with Harry Douglas. I saw Dominique Croom and Darius Johnson both haul in nice catches. Bernard Reedy, an UDFA out of Toledo, had a really good day. He hauled in a beauty of a deep pass from Davis and had really good vision moving through coverage after a short catch in the flat.
- The running backs all looked fine. Antone Smith in particular had a good day, I thought. He was catching the ball well out of the backfield and seemed to be more involved with first-team reps. Fullback Patrick DiMarco looked pretty good today, too.
- Levine Toilolo can't and won't replace Tony Gonzalez, but I did think he looked pretty comfortable in the offense today. He's still not the most reliable receiver, so hopefully he'll come along. Bear Pascoe looked good. He's more of a blocking tight end than a receiver, but I still saw him make a very nice reception today. Jacob Pedersen, the undrafted free agent tight end out of Wisconsin, has really nice hands.
- I know it's early, I know there's no real contact, but Sam Baker looked really aggressive in drills. Joe Hawley was getting praise from Mike Tice for his hustle. Jake Matthews looks like he's coming along nicely. Thomas Dimitroff spent a good amount of practice observing both lines, which I thought was interesting.
This is, in general, a more physically intimidating defense than we've seen on the field in recent years. They're also being pretty aggressive in practice, which is nice to see. The only thing that's missing, really, is the lively banter we used to get from Asante Samuel, Thomas DeCoud, and Sean Weatherspoon. That was fun, but maybe different isn't bad in this case.
- Paul Soliai is a tremendous person. Tyson Jackson is actually huge, too, but he seems normal-sized compared to Soliai. I don't expect Jackson to come in and put up crazy sack numbers, that's not really his role or his forte, but I really like his push up front. He also absolutely ran over Steven Jackson on one play, and that's actually not easy. Jonathan Babineaux and Malliciah Goodman both got some work in at DE in the nickel with the four man front. We saw a number of different defensive formations out there. I think Mike Nolan is going to have some fun with this defense this season.
- Kroy Biermann was involved in team drills and doesn't look to be hindered by any lingering issues from the Achilles injury he suffered last season. Jonathan Massaquoi also had a solid day.
- Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu have both bulked up, too, but particularly Worrilow. The additional size does not seem to be negatively impacting him on the field, either. In addition, Worrilow is emerging as a real leader on the field. I was impressed with him today. If I had to single out one guy who didn't live up to expectations, it would be Tyler Starr. He just struggles to get off blocks and the speed of the game seems to be an issue for him. Smitty said that he thinks the young linebackers are probably a little overwhelmed right now with the transition to the NFL, but he does like their athleticism, and they'll all have an opportunity to compete for starting or rotation roles.
- Dwight Lowery had some nice plays and seems to be adjusting to the scheme nicely. Coach Smith mentioned after practice that it's not a huge scheme adjustment for Lowery after playing for Rex Ryan, who coached with Smitty and Mike Nolan in Baltimore. William Moore had a good day, too.
- Robert Alford was the star in the secondary. Not only did he have a couple of nice pass breakups, but he also was angry that those pass deflections were not interceptions. He seems to have developed more of a nose for the ball. The Falcons should have a very good young secondary. Javier Arenas and Robert McClain both got some work in when the Falcons were working in the nickel.
After practice, Smitty talked about competition for starting roles and backup spots being the theme of the offseason, specifically mentioning competition along the offensive line and at the linebacker position. He's pleased with the way the defense is attacking the ball, but would like to see the offense taking better care of the ball in those situations.
When asked about the competition for the backup quarterback spot, Smitty said Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, and undrafted free agent Jeff Matthews each have a shot at locking up the #2 spot.
Surprisingly, Smitty sounds totally fine about the team's upcoming appearance on Hard Knocks. He's eager for everyone to have the opportunity to see the team compete.
Roddy White and Julio Jones both spoke with the media following practice, also. Roddy was pleased with the way practice is going. Roddy threw some balls in practice today but insisted he won't get a chance to do it in a game, even though he does believe he is capable of doing so.
White likes Mike Tice and is pleased with the progress of the offensive line. When asked about the departure of Tony Gonzalez, White said that he expects we will see more three and four-wideout sets and that he expects guys like Harry Douglas and Devin Hester to be involved offensively. White was particularly effusive about Douglas, saying that his breakout season in 2013 was not a surprise to any of them.
Roddy also said, when asked, that he won't be the star of Hard Knocks. White expects there to be about seven or eight different Falcons who emerge as the show's stars, and White plans to sit back and be entertained, too.
Roddy was asked about the death of his brother and he talked about how much the support of the team meant to him when he experienced that tragic loss.
Julio Jones generally has a lot less to say than Roddy does. He did say, in terms of the season, that he'll be ready, and he'll just have to go out there and play football.
I'll be back at minicamp tomorrow, so share any questions you have in the comments!