Even though it's the middle of summer, the Falcons continued their training camp under a scorching Georgia sun on Sunday. Flowery Branch was packed with fans waiting to see the latest from our rookies as well as our seasoned veterans, to get an idea of what the 2014 season may look like. Here are some thoughts on what I observed in my time at the Branch...but first, the embedded live Twitter feed for today's camp!
Tweets by @TheFalcoholic
Matt Ryan looks great. At this point in his career, what else can you really say? His accuracy is amazing and the touch he puts on the ball is spot-on.
TJ Yates looks very good in the #2 spot. He already seems to have a better control of the offense than the last few guys to fulfill this role. While his arm isn't as strong as Ryan, he seems to have a good command of the offense and his accuracy is pretty good.
The competition between Renfree and Matthews looks to be leaning towards Renfree at this point, as he showed good accuracy and understanding of the offense. I'll be interested to see how these guys perform once the preseason games begin.
Steven Jackson looks like he still has a chip on his shoulder. Even though he is over 30, he seems to be in amazing shape and still appears to have good burst. I think he's going to have a big impact this year.
Interestingly, Josh Vaughn was receiving quite a few snaps with the first team as a WR. I'm not sure what to think about it, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on.
Devonta Freeman demonstrated his explosiveness all afternoon. Every time he touched the ball, he seemed to burst through the line or demonstrate his quickness. If he continues this way, he could earn some meaningful snaps during the season.
One last thought: of all the offensive formations I saw today, very few featured a full-back. Almost all of them featured 1RB with the rest of the skill positions occupied by WRs and/or TEs. This could signal a change for the offense, though I'm hesitant to make any conclusions this early.
For those concerned, Julio looked like he was 100%. His speed was outstanding, and he was easily cutting and planting on the injured foot. When he reached top-speed, he had a step on Trufant (who impressed, more on that later). Julio is clearly feeling good, and it was nice to see him performing at such a high speed with no issues whatsoever.
Roddy looked good, though his snaps seemed to be limited. His timing with Ryan seemed to be spot-on, though he dropped a couple of passes here and there. Nothing to be worried about though.
Harry Douglas looked really good today. He caught everything that came his way and looked solid in his routes. I think he could have another big season with the absence of Gonzalez.
Devin Hester really impressed. He got quite a few reps with the first and second teams, and caught everything that came his way, including a very nice over-the-shoulder throw from Ryan in the end-zone. If he can continue this trend, he could get significant snaps during the season. With his still-impressive speed, he's someone to keep an eye on.
As for the new guys, Reedy didn't impress much. He had a hard time releasing from jams to show off his top-end speed. He seemed to have good hands during drills, but didn't really impress that much on day 3.
Tramaine Thompson looked good and hauled in a few passes. He's a player to keep an eye on once the pre-season begins.
Those worried about the protection that Ryan will have should breathe deeply, as this OL looks vastly improved already. Asamoah is an absolute beast at RG, and Matthews already looks like a veteran. When the first team was on the field, Ryan seemed to have ample time to get the ball out, though I would caution that this was NOT a padded practice.
In particular, I've been very impressed with what I've seen from Matthews. He rarely needs to be "coached up" and he already seems to plug in nicely. His technique is rock-solid, and he's rarely (if ever) out of position. You also don't see him give up much ground even when bull rushed.
Asamoah has been a god-send. He is an absolute stud, and along with Hawley - who seems to be getting all of the first team reps - and Blalock, Ryan seems to have a great pocket to pass out of.
As for the second and third teams, it looks like Carimi is getting snaps at 2nd team RT, with Holmes at LT and Johnson at LG. Gunn got snaps as the RG on the 2nd team as well.
Our RT for the last two games of 2013 - Ryan Schraeder - was working with the third team most of the time.
For those wondering about Peter Konz, he seemed to be locked in with the second team. I didn't see him get any meaningful snaps with the first team all day (though I easily could have missed it).
Let me take the time to validate a few things you may have heard: Tyson Jackson is HUGE. He's an absolute mammoth of a man. The same goes for Soliai. Goodman got some time in with the first team - lining up at the 3-tech in 3-4 sets on several occasions. The line seemed to do ok, though it's hard to gauge properly when they don't have pads on.
Overall, the unit didn't look outstanding, though the 90+ degree heat could definitely be attributed to that. What was clear was that Bryan Cox was riding these guys, and demanding more and more. A better assessment will probably come with the padded practices on Monday.
Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu took all of the first team snaps, with Kroy and Massaqoui lined up as the OLB in those sets. No one in particular stood out, but the pace of the practices seemed to be somewhat subdued, so it was hard to make any firm determinations. It is clear that Worrilow has a good command of the defense, often telling other players where they needed to be. He and Bartu looked far more comfortable in their roles.
On the second team, Prince Shembo stood out. He had a pass deflection that was nearly an interception and it was facilitated by his athleticism and good instincts. If he continues to play like this, he will continue to get meaningful reps, and could find himself getting regular season snaps as well.
Of all the positions on the defense, the area that gives me the most optimism is the secondary. Dwight Lowery looked very good in the snaps that I saw. Twice, he jumped routes on Roddy White (from Ryan, no less) and on one of those occasions he snagged the ball for what would have been a pick 6. He seems to be very comfortable with what this defense needs from him, and he impressed me in limited action.
Likewise, during the one-on-one drills, both Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant were adamant about lining up against Julio and Roddy. Both players are highly confident, and it is clear that both have tremendous speed. On several occasions, Alford lined up on Roddy and bested him. However, Roddy also hit him with a beautiful double-move that would have been an easy touchdown.
On the other side, Julio was scorching fast, but amazingly, Trufant was able to hang with him the entire time. Though JJ did pull in a very nice grab going against Tru, the young corner proved his value by breaking up two other passes intended for the star receiver. These match-ups are only going to make all four men better, and it was easily the highlight of the entire training camp.
Training camp was packed again, despite the intense heat of the standard GA summer. The offense is already looking very good and the depth that we have is something to pay attention to once the preseason begins. The addition of guys like Hester appear to be offering some different looks, while guys like Freeman are also angling for some additional snaps.
The defense still appears to be a work in progress, though a better assessment can be made once the full set of pads go on tomorrow. Our secondary is already looking very good, but it will be interesting to see how the DLine and linebackers perform once they can start laying the wood.
It was a great day at camp, and I'm looking forward to my next visit. What I saw today gave me the sense that this team is headed for a big rebound, but it still has some areas to work on as well.
What are your thoughts about the early feedback from the opening of training camp 2014?