The Falcons’ young defense should be improved this season, and we’re seeing them develop each day during training camp. Day 7 on Thursday was no different.
While all eyes are on the scrappy, hungry defense, Dan Quinn said after practice that there’s something special about the whole team.
“Really with the whole team I can feel that uniqueness that makes a team play at their best potential,” Quinn said. “It’s the mentoring that takes place from one player to the next player. You don’t have to be an eight year player to mentor and model what it could look like. To me, that’s when the really cool stuff happens.”
The team is less than a week away from its first preseason contest, where we’ll get our first glimpse of where things stand after that season’s crushing end.
Here are five things we learned about the Falcons on Thursday.
1. D.J. Tialavea is transitioning to tackle.
Swing tackle has been a question for the Falcons, and it looks like the team is trying to answer it with former tight end D.J. Tialavea.
Tialavea’s playing weight is listed at 260 pounds, but his frame is built to handle more. The run blocking aspect shouldn’t be a problem for Tialavea, as it’s similar to what he’s done as a tight end. Pass protection is the area in which he’ll need to grow, said Quinn.
“It was something that he and I had discussed previously and he really wants to give it a shot,” Quinn said. “I thought the earlier the better. We can take it a few weeks and see where it goes. Today was his first day. He went through the meetings and the walkthrough last night. Today was his first practice.”
The move was Tialavea’s idea, according to Quinn, and it’s something they’ve been discussing for months. Considering how crowded the tight end position is, it may be Tialavea’s best chance to make the roster.
2. Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and other young players are developing as leaders.
You see it on the field, as they play with more confidence and lead by example. Quinn said it’s been exciting to see that mentorship develop.
“When Deion Jones is taking Jermaine Grace with him,” Quinn said. “When Keanu Neal is taking somebody with him. When Clayborn is taking somebody with him and helping them get there faster. ‘If I had known this as a rookie, I would’ve been this much better earlier’. They recognize the importance of that.
“That’s what can get us the best and fastest now. We do have more reps, we do have more experience together as a group and that’s a big help.”
3. The secondary is opportunistic at every level.
There was another pick at the end of practice Thursday, this time from Jarnor Jones. Deji Olatoye, who is getting second team reps ahead of Jalen Collins, had a big-time pass breakup during practice, also.
They’re not the only ones standing out to Quinn.
“One other corner that has jumped out to me so far and I thought he was making progress last year is C.J. Goodwin,” Quinn said. “For sure, he’s one that we counted on. He made the team as a special teams player first and then through injuries, him and Jalen Collins really jumped in quickly and both of them answered the bell.”
Collins was still getting reps with the third team on Thursday.
4. Julio Jones sat out of 11-on-11 work.
After returning to some team drills on Wednesday, Jones didn’t participate in full team work on Thursday. But Jones wasn’t held out of practice altogether, and Taylor Gabriel and Andre Roberts were able to get back into things.
“It was good to see some of the guys get back in today who got some work,” Quinn said. “Taylor Gabriel, Julio Jones, and Andre Roberts all got some work in today. We’re encouraged by their participation back in here. We’re hoping to ramp them up more as we go.”
5. Takk McKinley is getting plenty of mentoring from his teammates and Quinn.
McKinley’s development may be a little slowed because he missed minicamp due to CBA rules that require rookies whose schools were on quarter systems to return to school until exams are finished. He also is coming off offseason should surgery and was just recently cleared to participate.
Quinn is still pleased with his development, and he’s doing what he can to help him along.
“Each week I get involved, some with the defensive linemen. It’s my background,” Quinn said. “Especially during training camp, I’ll get involved on certain techniques.”
But a lot of McKinley’s progress is a combination of McKinley’s hard work and his teammates stepping up to mentor him.
“He’s got some terrific mentors that work with him with Adrian Clayborn, Addison Reed and Vic Beasley. Those four spend a good bit of time together,” Quinn said. “It’s nice to have someone to ask questions to. ‘What about this situation?’ or ‘What about this technique?’ He worked so hard in the summer time to rehab where other guys had their break.”
The Falcons will practice this evening — the only practice of training camp that isn’t in the morning. Gates open at 4:05 p.m., and practice starts at 5:05 p.m. Today’s practice and Sundays are the last ones that are open to the public, so if you’d like to go, this weekend is your chance.