It was another hot day at the Branch as the players took the field for the third week of on-field OTAs. Dan Quinn, as usual, kept the energy high and the pace fast on the field.
The biggest news from today's OTAs, as Dave Choate reported earlier, was the return of several key players who had been held out due to ongoing injury issues. Jake Matthews, Joe Hawley, Peter Konz, second rounder Jalen Collins, Brooks Reed and William Moore all returned to the field today in a limited capacity. Quinn indicated after practice that the team will ease the players back into a full workload as a precaution. Marquis Spruill was held out of practice today, and Sam Baker and Jonathan Asamoah were both working inside with trainers. Baker is continuing to rehab the knee injury that ended his season in 2014, and Asamoah has an ankle injury. Quinn also indicated some other players are dealing with some minor injuries or soreness. First rounder Vic Beasley was limited today with a shoulder injury.
Much has been made of the coaching staff's plan to allow open competition for starting roles and playing time. The offensive linemen who had previously been held out of OTAs due to injury, Hawley, Matthews and Konz, ran position drills with the second and third team. It's assumed that Hawley has a good shot at being the starting center, and it's reasonable to be confident that, if healthy, Jake Matthews will be the starting left tackle, but these players didn't just assume those roles upon their return to the field. Konz took snaps at left guard.
Jalen Collins showed off some impressive awareness and ball skills in secondary drills, with a textbook tip and interception. He tracked the ball nicely, maintaining coverage and making the play on the ball at just the right time.
Devonta Freeman is a multifaceted running back and a solid receiver. He had a beautiful catch out of the backfield today. Quinn has said that will be part of the expectation for running backs.
Lots of people have asked about Levine Toilolo, and there hasn't been much to say until today. He had a really solid day, catching everything that was thrown his way. People have also asked about Tyler Starr regularly. Starr's functional strength continues to be a concern. He tries and tries but just has a hard time getting home because he's simply not strong enough.
Part of the focus in team drills is working on close game situations, for instance, a simulation where it's the fourth quarter, with :38 seconds left on the clock, and the Falcons are trailing 20-19. In those full team drills, it's interesting to see how the players ramp up their effort and speed. Needless to say, there's no contact. Players are in shorts and helmets. However, it's about as physical as it can be without crossing a line and running afoul of the NFL's rules for these practices.
When you hear players or Dan Quinn say that the focus on defense is attacking the ball, it's not just talk. The defense is aggressively going after the ball on every single play. Offensively, nobody slows down until the play is over, and they have the same level of focus on protecting the ball. There's also a lot of communication on both sides of the ball. It makes those team drills very fun to watch.
Today's practice playlist ranged from Drake's Energy to Michael Jackson's Wanna Be Starting Something and from Nelly's Air Force Ones to Tilt Ya Head Back by Christina Aguilera featuring Nelly.
We had a few questions from Twitter about OTAs as well.
@jeannathomas as much info as possible on what this LB corps is looking like. and also, the converts in the secondary / DBs as a whole.— Princey Gilbert (@3rdAndMiles) June 9, 2015
After practice, Bryan Cox likened the whole of OTAs to "gym class." I'd say that's accurate. It's really difficult to tell you how the linebackers are doing because this portion of the offseason is pretty superficial. I have been impressed, again, by how the secondary and the linebackers have been attacking the ball. It's also noteworthy that Dan Quinn identified Ricardo Allen, who is getting a shot to compete at safety, as a player who has stood out to him.
@jeannathomas How is D. Freeman looking ? Who do you think has the lead for starting RB? How is Roddy White adjusting to the New offense?— Homa (@Homafire) June 9, 2015
Competition brings out the best in Devonta. I'd say he currently has the lead for the starting role, as he was taking reps with the 1s, but I do think that Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Antone Smith will all get a decent number of carries. Roddy looks great. White is also a very competitive player, and he looks like he's having a lot of fun out there.
Really well. They're doing a lot of technique work, and everyone seems to be coming along nicely.
@jeannathomas Can you give us your impression of how the guys returning from injury looked? Matthews, Reed, Willie Mo, etc. Thx.— Thomas Masci (@Tommy_PS_Masci) June 9, 2015
They were all limited, but everyone seemed to be moving well and at full speed in the context of what the team was working on today. They looked happy to be back out there.
Your thoughts on today's OTAs?