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Falcons Training Camp Review: Day Two

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A rundown of the second day of training camp for the Atlanta Falcons.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We spent Saturday afternoon sweating profusely on the practice fields at Flowery Branch to bring you the very latest about how the Falcons are shaping up for 2014. While there's not going to be a huge difference from day one to day two of camp, and the team won't put on pads until tomorrow, I saw many interesting things yesterday that I'm happy to share with you today.

There were three names that showed up frequently in my notes. Jake Matthews, Devonta Freeman, and Joplo Bartu all really impressed me yesterday.

Jake Matthews seems to be able to hold his own regardless of who he's going up against. I saw him fend off Tyson Jackson in a scrimmage situation yesterday. Jackson is extremely large and athletic, so it was pretty impressive. Matthews is acclimating to the speed of the pro game and developing a good grasp on his responsibilities early in his career, and I expect him to be very prepared by the start of the season. Another fun note about Matthews--while interactions between Matthews and Kroy Biermann never crossed the line into a true physical altercation on Saturday following the fisticuffs on Friday, you can tell that they're being very physical with each other in drills.

Devonta Freeman looks excellent. Now, bear in mind that its pretty easy for running backs to shine in no-contact situations, but he genuinely looks great. He appears to have great vision, instincts, hands, and speed. Freeman is the player I am looking most forward to seeing in pads on Monday. I'm eager to see what he's able to do when contact is permitted.

Joplo Bartu has really impressed me in coverage in particular. He had a really nice play in coverage against Levine Toilolo that stood out to me. I think his development as a player from year one to year two has been very good.

Mike Tice had a lot of praise for the offensive line yesterday, but when a player wasn't doing something well, Tice was vocal (and somewhat profane) about correcting it immediately. Bryan Cox is equally interactive (and profane) with his defensive linemen. I can't help but be extremely optimistic about what these two coaches bring to the table for units that really needed an infusion of toughness. I also expect these guys to be stars of Hard Knocks. They're fun to watch.

I like what I'm seeing out of Ra'Shede Hageman a lot. He is just so fast and so strong. He's a little rough around the edges in terms of technique, but he's working consistently to correct it. His respect for Bryan Cox is readily apparent, as is his effort. The more I see from Hageman in terms of his approach to the game, the more I think it's very likely that he can live up to his remarkable potential. I think Hageman has first round-caliber talent, and if he develops the way I think he can, he will turn out to be an absolute steal.

A few other random notes:

I saw undrafted free agent wide receiver Freddie Martino make a really impressive sideline catch against undrafted free agent cornerback Devonta Glover-Wright. Wright's coverage was good, which made Martino's catch more impressive.

Another undrafted free agent wide receiver who impressed me yesterday was Tramaine Thompson. He made a beauty of a catch and showed impressive speed after the completion.

Many fans have asked about Geraldo Boldewijn, the 6'4", 220-pound receiver out of Boise State. He made a pretty physical catch in coverage yesterday, and while speed isn't his thing, he's a strong runner after the catch.

Tyler Starr's effort is evident. He's clearly doing all he can to get up to speed, but he really struggles to finish plays. He was manhandled at different times by Harland Gunn and Lamar Holmes.

On defense, I was really impressed with Marcus Spruill. Some readers have knocked Spruill for his size--to be honest, he absolutely looks like a normal-sized linebacker. I don't think that's an issue. He showed impressive push getting into the backfield yesterday.

Prince Shembo continues to impress. He looks really good in coverage. While I still don't think he'll be a starter at inside linebacker, I do think he'll definitely get a lot of rotational snaps on passing downs in particular.

Undrafted free agent outside linebacker Jacques Smith did some nice things in drills yesterday. His technique looked good and he was getting really good push against the offensive linemen he was paired up against.

As far as the veterans go, perhaps my favorite play of the day was a beautiful sideline catch by Roddy White. It was a classic White catch, and he exhibited beautiful body control. The best part of it was that Robert Alford's coverage on Roddy was excellent. White is one of the best in the league, so I can't really fault Alford when White makes that play, but Alford's coverage is solid.

Mike Smith spoke to the media following practice. Smitty thought the second day of practice went well. He talked about the competition at all of the positions that the team, media and fans have been discussing all offseason. Smith said he is excited about getting the team into pads on Monday so they can really evaluate the offensive and defensive linemen. When asked about newly-signed wide receiver Jabin Sambrano, Smith said that Sambrano has practice squad experience and that Sambrano and Jeremy Ebert are on the fast track to learn the offense. Smith said that receivers coach Terry Robiskie will be burning the midnight oil to get the new guys up to speed.

When asked about undrafted free agent wide receiver Bernard Reedy, Smith said, "Bernard is very fast." He went on to say that Reedy's speed is "elite," and said that Reedy should be in the mix for a roster spot. Smitty said that the team has their "big three" receivers--Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Harry Douglas--as well as Devin Hester, and then Drew Davis when he's healthy, and that the team will need to decide whether to carry five or six receivers on the final 53-man roster.

On the nickel position, Smitty said that it's a competitive situation. According to Smith, the team plans to give Robert McClain, Josh Wilson, and Javier Arenas the same number of reps, and that Ricardo Allen would also get a limited number of reps at nickel. Smith also said that he expects a different player to start each preseason game so they can evaluate the players evenly. Smith said that those players have different skill sets and the coaching staff will evaluate which skill set best suits their scheme. "It's tough, because 65, 67% are going to be be your sub and the other 35, 33% are going to be base," Smith said, "so those guys are going to have to show what they can do."

On Julio Jones and Kroy Biermann, Smitty said that Jones will be alternating days on the field. Jones will practice one day and then take a day off. Biermann will practice two days and then take a day off. Two of Biermann's days off fall on scheduled days off, which made it an easier sell to Biermann, who is ready to go full speed.

Jake Matthews also spoke to the media. On a sense of urgency, Matthews said, "I put that urgency on myself. I take a lot of pride in where I was picked and the team I went to. One of the biggest things I've noticed is there's a ton of playmakers on this offense, and my job is just to give them the opportunities to go out there and make plays."Matthews is just trying to get more comfortable with the offense and be a consistent player.

When asked about the altercation with Biermann, Matthews just said that it's football and it's going to happen sometimes. Matthews also said that Smith and the coaching staff are emphasizing toughness and dominating the line of scrimmage. The main focus for Matthews is consistency.

Share your thoughts about yesterday's practice in the comments, and feel free to use the comments as today's training camp open thread.