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Falcons mandatory minicamp notebook: Six things we learned Wednesday

Injuries, rookies shining, and much more.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The second day of minicamp brought the public to Flowery Branch—more

Here’s notes and interesting tidbits from yesterday’s edition of minicamp.

#1: Andre Roberts is hurt

The veteran receiver was signed, bluntly, to be the team’s returner this year. If someone else takes the job, great, but we all know Roberts is the odds-on favorite to win it and function as the team’s fifth or sixth receiver, depending on how many players they keep on the 53 man roster.

This doesn’t seem very serious, but sure-handed Justin Hardy took reps at returner today, and shouldn’t be discounted as a contender for the role. Roberts may well miss tomorrow, but he’ll be locked into the battle come training camp time.

#2: Tevin Coleman is...heavier?

I don’t mind players adding a little bulk, but this is kind of an odd note I hadn’t heard before. Apparently Coleman is looking to add some physicality to his game and has gained a noteworthy amount of weight to get there.

Why am I leery? Well, Coleman’s speed is his big calling card, and his sometimes struggles with fighting through contact always felt like they had more to do with his balance than any issues with strength or bulk. On the other hand, judging by a month-old photo (see below), Coleman is now ridiculously jacked. If the Falcons can throw Devonta Freeman, a more physical Coleman, and physical rookie Brian Hill at defenders, that seems a bit unfair.

If Coleman doesn’t slow down at all and becomes a slightly more punishing runner, you won’t hear anyone complain, in other words. It just can’t come at the cost of his speed, not with the team likely to still split him out wide at times. More on that later from Jeanna Thomas.

#3: Damontae Kazee gets time at the nickel

True to his word, Dan Quinn has managed to get promising fifth round rookie Damontae Kazee involved at multiple positions. Yesterday, he snagged his first real chance to man the nickel, where Brian Poole is the presumptive favorite.

Kazee’s future is probably at safety—he could battle Ricardo Allen for the starting job next year, though he’s unlikely to take it next year—but he was an excellent cornerback and deserves his shot there. Plus in his first year, with no starting job likely to arrive on his doorstep, versatility greatly increases the chances he’ll get on the field and contribute. I’m incredibly bullish on his long-term outlook, either way.

#4: Kemal Ishmael is winning friends at linebacker

Ishmael got time at linebacker and looked pretty good there a year ago before he got hurt, to the point where I speculated he’d be the team’s starting weakside linebacker ahead of rookie Duke Riley. While that may not be true—Riley has come on strong—Ishmael’s physicality and aggression are playing well at the position.

If you can draw praise and a new nickname from Deion Jones, chances are that you’re doing something right. Ishmael will be critically important to this team’s coverage units on special teams, and he should also be a useful reserve, at minimum. If he does really well this season, he might be able to snag a long term deal from Atlanta heading into 2018.

#5: The whole team should be healthy for training camp

This is great news, even if it was also expected news. The Falcons have a lot of injured players right now, from Desmond Trufant (recovering from a severe injury last season) to Andre Roberts (who just got hurt and doesn’t figure to miss much time). Getting everyone on the field to compete in late July is just what this Falcons team needs as they roll into their preseason tune-ups.

#6: Alex Mack is FIRED UP

It wouldn’t be minicamp if an offensive lineman wasn’t flying around, but the fact that it’s Alex Mack, the team’s eldest and best offensive lineman, just makes me happy.

BONUS: Reader observations

Reader gafalcon9 was kind enough to weigh in with what he saw, including a brush with rookie tight end Eric Saubert. Here’s what he had to say:

Eric Sauber signed autographs after practice. Really chatty and really cool dude. He’s also friggin huge. Favorite team growing up was the Chicago Bears and his favorite TE is (was) Greg Olsen. When I asked how he felt about beating Olsen twice a year, Saubert responded, "I’m excited about it."

Duke Riley and Damontee Kazee took a lot of reps in 11-on-11s. Riley is already wildly popular with the fans. Receivers looked pretty sure-handed besides a drop by Hardy and a drop in the end zone by Brian Hill. Hill had been split wide on the play and ran a slant, with Riley on the coverage. Riley had good coverage though so hard to put it all on Hill. Also, Hardy has switched from No. 16 to No. 14.