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Falcons Training Camp Report: August 2, 2014

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An overview of Saturday's training camp practice.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Both Jeanna Thomas and Andrew Hirsh were on hand at Saturday's training camp practice. Jeanna kept an eye on the offensive line and the cornerbacks, while Andrew focused on the linebackers and the wide receivers.

Offensive Line

I'm eager to see the offensive line in preseason action to get a better sense of where this unit really is. Yesterday's practice was not in pads, which does make it more difficult to assess how the line is performing.

Gabe Carimi does seem to be extremely versatile. I saw him spend time at left guard and also at right tackle, and he seemed equally comfortable in each spot.

Jake Matthews absolutely looks NFL-ready. He's extremely consistent and his technique is solid. He consistently draws praise from Mike Tice, not just for his technique, but for his effort.

My primary concern with the offensive line at this point is probably run blocking. Again, we'll know more about the status of this unit after we see the starters in particular in preseason action. They seem to have a hard time opening any holes in the red zone in particular, but I'm hoping it's because the run defense, with the addition of Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, is just that much more stout. Jake Matthews and Jonathan Asamoah seem to be more effective in run blocking than Sam Baker and Justin Blalock.

Cornerbacks

Yesterday was a really good day across the board for the cornerbacks. There's is impressive depth of talent at that position. It's probably Atlanta's strongest position aside from receiver. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are both very, very good. Trufant broke up a pass intended for Julio Jones early in yesterday's practice. Going up against Jones and Roddy White has certainly sped up the development of these young corners.

Josh Wilson looked good in coverage, and also made his way into the backfield on a corner blitz. Javier Arenas was consistently around the ball, with a couple of nice pass deflections. These two and Robert McClain, who has had a consistently impressive training camp, are going to make the nickel competition really difficult for the coaching staff.

Speaking of McClain, he and rookie Ricardo Allen both took some reps at safety on Saturday. Mike Smith confirmed after practice that cross training these guys at safety is part of the plan to address depth concerns at the position.

Jordan Mabin, who has spent some time on Atlanta's practice squad, had a really strong showing in yesterday's practice. Mabin has a good understanding of coverage and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Linebackers

It's easy to see why Mike Nolan likes Prince Shembo so much. The rookie ILB did a particularly good job on Saturday covering running backs and tight ends - especially during seven-on-sevens. He seems to be well acclimated with Nolan's defense, as he got fairly vocal towards the end of practice -- directing teammates and taking a charge as a leader on the second unit. Considering the fact that he's adjusting to a different position from college, Shembo's progress is highly encouraging. I won't be shocked if he earns a lot of play time in 2014.

Paul Worrilow dropped a surefire interception at the end of practice, which allowed Courtney Roby to make a diving catch off the deflection. Otherwise, Worrilow and Joplo Bartu remained fairly quiet throughout the afternoon.

I didn't see Tyler Starr make any exceptional plays, but he was flying around in coverage and brought more energy to the field than most. It's clear Starr has a lot of natural talent, and I'm intrigued to see what he brings throughout camp and the exhibition schedule. Starr did mix it up a little with tight end Brian Wozniak, much to the entertainment of safety William Moore.

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Ebert remains a longshot to make the 53-man roster, but he continues to impress when given the chance. The former Patriots draft pick may lack size (he's listed at 6-feet tall), but he makes up for it with soft hands, crisp route running and quick wheels. Not only is he fast, but he changes directions well and is regularly alluding one-one-one coverage.

Speaking of soft hands, Devin Hester also made a number of nice grabs on Saturday. He looks more natural at the WR position than I thought he would, and I'm starting to think he can be a valuable (and underrated) weapon for Matt Ryan. As The DW noted on Twitter, the return specialist racked up 757 yards in the air and three receiving TDs as a WR in 2009 - so we know he can he contribute on offense. He won't put up those stats in Atlanta, but perhaps he can be the center of a few screen plays in Dirk Koetter's book. His presence certainly gives Koetter an opportunity to get more creative.

I know we harped on Bernard Reedy after Friday Night Lights, but his speed keeps turning heads. This speed could earn him a roster spot on the special teams unit, and ST coach Keither Armstrong has acknowledged this as a potential fit. Be sure to keep an eye on him Friday when the Dolphins come to town. 

Tight end Levine Toilolo had a few nice grabs, including a touchdown that required him to fend off blanket coverage. At 6-foot-8, he could quickly become a solid red zone threat - especially since opposing defenses will have to focus on Atlanta's star wideouts. Toilolo will never give the Falcons the kind of value Tony Gonzalez provided, but don't be surprised if he blossoms into a reliable target inside the 20's.

Julio Jones looked fine but was clearly taking it easy. Roddy White took the day off.

Post-Practice Comments

Mike Smith addressed the media after practice and shared an injury update on safety Dwight Lowery, who suffered a head injury during Friday evening's Friday Night Lights event. Smith confirmed that Lowery is currently under the league's concussion protocol, so there is no timetable on his return, though Smith does not believe the head injury is serious. Knowing Lowery's concussion history does make this injury more of a concern than it might be otherwise, though Smith said that the first concussion for a player is just as much of a concern as the second or third concussion.

On the lack of depth at safety, particularly with Lowery and rookie Dezmen Southward dealing with injuries, Smith said, "We have some guys on our roster right now that we can cross train, in terms of some of the corners, we'll work with the safety position. When we start getting into our 53-man roster, we've got to do that anyways so we'll work some of the corners inside. We would never discount making a roster move if there is someone that we feel can help us." Smith then said that cross-training corners at safety is something that always happens, because the team has to have a contingency plan with their 46-man game day roster, but that the injuries have caused them to start that process sooner. Smith also confirmed that Robert McClain and Ricardo Allen were currently cross-training at safety.

Smtih also had some interesting things to say about Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith, who should get more opportunities to show what they can do in preseason with Steven Jackson out with a hamstring injury. "Well, I think Devonta Freeman is on a fast track to be a contributor on our team. He's understanding our pass protection, at least what our defense is presenting. It's going to be fun to watch him against the Titans on Monday and go against a little different defense." On Antone Smith, Smitty said, "We've seen Antone Smith last year with his limited touches. He was very productive, so we feel like we need to get him more touches so it gives us an opportunity to give him the ball as well."

On new defensive tackle Theo Agnew, Smitty said that they're bringing him along slowly in terms of conditioning, but that they expect him to see some snaps against the Dolphins in the first preseason game.

When asked about the next steps for both lines, Smith said, "We've got to continue to work on our techniques, both against the run and the pass. I thought that we did some good things in the scrimmage last night in terms of in-line play. On the defensive side, we've got to work on attacking the quarterback. We've got to be able to apply pressure to the quarterback. On offense, we've got to keep our quarterback clean and keep a good strong solid pocket in front of him, especially between the guards."

Let us know what questions you have about yesterday's practice!