Like Devin Hester mentioned yesterday, Dan Quinn is not one to belabor practice. The team goes onto the field with certain expectations of what they'd like to accomplish, and they work hard to accomplish that in a brief period of time. Today's practice, the first of this year's training camp, followed that trend. Practice wrapped up about 20 minutes earlier than expected.
The morning practices are a big change from the late-afternoon schedule the team has primarily followed in recent years. It was hot, but not as hot as it will be later, and there was a nice breeze. The fan turnout was a little less than I expected, but people do generally have to work on Fridays. Expect a big crowd if you're planning to attend this weekend.
The only player who really missed practice today was Lamar Holmes, and he is, of course, on the PUP list at present. There were some issues with the heat and cramping, and tackle Ryan Schraeder experienced what Quinn described as "a strain" during practice, but there were no major injury issues today. Jake Matthew and Joe Hawley appeared to be somewhat limited as a precaution.
- Players were in shorts and helmets, and obviously the team doesn't want anyone hitting the quarterback, so it's not easy to gauge their performance. Matt Ryan, T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree all looked fine, but there's not much to learn about quarterback play in this context.
- The receivers all looked good in general. Leonard Hankerson, who impressed throughout OTAs and minicamp, really stood out today. He's pulling in catches consistently and looks very comfortable in this scheme. His time in Washington with Kyle Shanahan surely helps.
- Antone Smith looked explosive, as always. He appears to be fully recovered.
- Devonta Freeman was taking first team reps, but the competition between Freeman and Tevin Coleman is still very much alive.
- Involving the running backs in the passing game appears to be a factor in this offense, and Freeman, Coleman and Smith are well suited for that.
- Jacob Tamme, who seems to have developed a level of comfort with Matt Ryan, had an impressive catch that he appeared to control to the ground with one hand.
- They switched up the offensive line personnel quite a bit. Tyler Polumbus came in at right tackle after Schraeder suffered some kind of injury, and Mike Person spent some time at left guard with the first team.
- Just as it's difficult to really assess quarterback performance when the team is working in a very limited contact situation, it's hard to say how the pass rush looks. They're not allowed to hit the quarterback, so if you don't hear much about huge pass rush improvements in the first day of training camp, don't panic.
- Ricardo Allen did take first team reps at free safety. He impressed in OTAs, and we'll have a better idea of his potential after we see him in this role during the preseason, but so far, he looks to be getting serious consideration for the starting role.
- Jalen Collins spent some time in the nickel, which was interesting. I generally expected Collins to shift outside and that Robert Alford would play nickel, but Alford stayed outside today.
- Alford performed well outside, too, with an interception against Roddy White and a nice pass break-up on a ball intended for Julio Jones. Alford's defensive teammates really thought the pass break-up should have been a pick, and they let him know after the play.
- Phillip Adams had a really nice interception, also. He read the route perfectly. A big part of this simplified defensive scheme is creating turnovers, and the defensive backs are certainly demonstrating that focus in practice.
- Devin Hester, Eric Weems and Robert Alford all had some opportunities to return punts today. In years past we've seen some undrafted free agents in the mix as potential return specialists, but not today.
@jeannathomas How did Hardy do today? Didn't hear anything about him— Atlanta Falcons BR (@BrFalcons) July 31, 2015
@jeannathomas so Ik devonta was the starter but who were the top four recievers?— Azzaam Kapadia (@NFL_Fanatic11) July 31, 2015
@jeannathomas Who would you say took seriously off season workouts? Saw Shede and must say he is muscular!!!! :)— stacey w. (@reni1115) July 31, 2015
The players who have changed the most in terms of physique are definitely RaShede Hageman and Lamar Holmes. For Holmes, it won't do him much good, sadly, since he's on the PUP list, but Hageman looks really fit. He had great burst even when he was heavier, so I'm eager to see what impact this has on the field.
@jeannathomas was Chris Chester out there today?— Jeff Collins (@jcollins12671) July 31, 2015
Yeah, I think he's still getting acclimated. I still expect Chester to be the starting left guard.
@jeannathomas any highlights from coach Cox today?— Ryan Brown (@Ryan_C_Brown) July 31, 2015
We were too far away from Coach Cox to hear anything interesting, unfortunately.
@jeannathomas initial impressions of Beasley, Coleman? Beasley bigger or smaller than you thought?— Tyler Shackleford (@tylershack) July 31, 2015
Coleman's really a good fit for this scheme. He works really hard and he's talented, and he's very familiar with the outside zone since that's what they ran at Indiana. I love what he brings to the table. As far as Beasley, he's about exactly what I expected in terms of size. He has kind of a slender build but he seems strong enough. I don't think his frame could support a lot more muscle mass, and I think if he bulked up he'd risk losing some of his initial burst, which wouldn't be ideal.
@jeannathomas who stood out in the first practice?— Blake Bullock (@Blake_Bullock11) July 31, 2015
Antone Smith, Robert Alford, Leonard Hankerson.
@jeannathomas any big differences in practices now compared to smitty practices? Playlist notwithstanding— Telfo (@Telfo1) July 31, 2015
I know I've mentioned the pace of practice with regularity, but really, this is the most significant change from the Mike Smith era. Mike Smith's practices kind of meandered. Dan Quinn's Falcons stay focused to the point that they're accomplishing everything they need to do in a very brief amount of time.
@jeannathomas What's your opinion on Spruill? Never saw him last year. Is he healthy? Think he's a cut candidate cause of new LBer additions— AtlantaFanatic (@j_vick86) July 31, 2015
I like Spruill's potential. It is kind of a crowded position now with the offseason's acquisitions, and the little setback he had with his knee in minicamp wasn't ideal. He's definitely a guy to keep an eye on throughout this interval.
It was great! Thanks for asking.
Ask your training camp questions and weigh in with your opinions in the comments.