Tuesday was the first day of practice that wasn’t open to the public, and preparation for Thursday’s Hall of Fame preseason opener was in full swing.
Day 8 featured a brief practice with a lot of work for the younger players. Some key starters won’t even play (Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, to name a couple) on Thursday, and the starters who do get some work probably won’t play long. But Thursday is an opportunity for the rookies and the Falcons’ developmental guys to show what they’ve got.
Here are the notes and quotes from Tuesday’s practice.
Notes, Day 8
- Players were in shorts and helmets, not full pads.
- Because the practice was closed to the public, no photos or videos were allowed outside of the early part of practice.
- There was a lot of chatter on defense. That communication has been an area of emphasis for Dan Quinn with this unit, and it’s working.
- Kenjon Barner has impressed me with his versatility. He had a nice catch out of the backfield on Tuesday, and throughout the rest of the camp he’s looked solid running the ball, too. Those skills coupled with his value as a return specialist bode well for the possibility of carving out a spot on the final 53.
- Christian Blake, one of the team’s developmental players who spent last season on the practice squad, has quietly had a solid camp. He’ll be one to keep an eye on this Thursday against the Broncos.
- Rookie tackle Kaleb McGary did leave practice and was tended to by medical staff, though I did not see it at the time — it’s impossible to keep up with everything when there are 90 guys on the field. Vaughn McClure of ESPN reported that McGary became ill during practice. It was extremely hot and humid, and here’s hoping the heat just got to McGary a bit and that he’s all hydrated and feeling good for Thursday. He’s been improving throughout camp, so I’m eager to get a look at him in game action.
Quotes, Day 8
On his contract: “I’m really not talking about a contract. My thing is to come out here every day and get better, feel great, have my confidence, work with the young guys, keeping them up to date, making sure they’re running their routes the right way and that they have their confidence going into the season.”
On whether he’s in the same boat as other WRs looking for new deals: “Nah, we’re not in the same boat. They’ve got their own thing going on; I’ve got my thing going on. I’m not waiting on Michael Thomas. I’m not waiting on Amari Cooper. It’s just us going back and forth right now negotiating, but that’s it. There’s nothing at this point for me to tell. My thing is just to come out here, working with the young guys and just being ready when the season starts.”
On which young guys to keep an eye on this Thursday: “All of them. But in particular, Blake — he’s been doing a great job, phenomenal, catching the ball down the field. (Devin) Gray’s been doing a great job. (Olamide Zaccheaus). I mean, all those guys, they’ve been doing a great job. I just want to see them in that game atmosphere and see how they can hold it together and go out there and compete and enjoy themselves and have fun.”
On Calvin Ridley: “We know what Calvin can do. What I just preach to him is just the little things now that we’re on the sideline and he’s just viewing practice, things like that, just look at route depth, how you get in and out of breaks, breathing — just little things to be a great receiver.”
On what he expects to be doing on Thursday: Just coaching the young guys, keeping them — getting them a routine. Because a lot of these guys don’t have a routine, especially on the professional level. Staying locked in, hearing cues, a lot of the receivers and things like that are going to play special teams, they’re going to have a lot of numerous roles in this game, so just keeping them locked in for the most part.
On playing (or not) this preseason: “I’m not playing preseason. For me, it’s more so I’m a veteran. I’ve been doing this. I don’t need preseason to get ready. It’s a mentality thing. As long as I get my reps at practice — I practice the way I play. Once I get my reps in and things like that, I’ll be ready to go. And my timing with Matt, it’s not — I need to be out there every day with Matt to get my timing down. He knows where I’m going to be; I know where he’s going to put the ball at.”
On those reps with Matt Ryan: “I get reps with Matt every day. We go on the side, we throw, we do our thing, what we need to do.”
On his status for Thursday night’s game: “I’m not sure, honestly. We’re going to talk about it a little later and see from there.”
On his role if he doesn’t play: “Really just being there in their corner, helping them out through the process, because it’s going to be a long game. So making sure they’re good. If I see something on the field, relaying it to them and helping them out from that aspect. Really just being in their corner and helping them out.”
On which guys he’s most excited to watch Thursday: “All the guys, really, more so in the DB room because I have a great connection with them. I’ve been with them a lot. So I’m excited to see them go out and play.”
On preparing for the Hall of Fame game: “So we’ve put good work out so far. Then this afternoon and tomorrow we’ll start beginning our preparation to get started for the Hall of Fame game. We’re very excited to go and get a chance to visit the Hall, and so here for 100 years in the game and be a part of it and go there, many of the players haven’t been. And so for us to get a chance to go and see it and experience it, coaches are excited about it, players are excited about it, and like I said before, it’s a huge opportunity for both Denver and us to get a chance to play more of the youngest players. So why not take advantage of that?”
On which players and position groups he’s eager to see: “I think the running back group, you know I’m interested in that group … I’m anxious to see some return games to go and see Marcus (Green) into that space, amongst others — O.Z. (Olamide Zaccheaus) in another spot, we’ll give him some looks at that. We’ve got all over — I could kind of go through every position, but there’s a number of guys — anybody really from the practice squad from last year, what does it look like now, a whole year later?”
What if those developmental players don’t look improved? “It’s like, OK, man, that player really improved from last preseason. Well, hell yeah, I hope he has. If he hasn’t, then he’s no longer part of the development program.”
On getting guys who landed on IR last year preseason work: “Yeah, when we can, we’d like to do that, because some of that trust gives you confidence, and you want to have that trust heading into the season. So it’s always by an individual basis, but yeah, that’s part of it. I’m back into it, now part individual, things kind of keep ramping up, now I’m into the practices, now I’ve got some game experience. So definitely that’s part of the plan.”
On Julio playing this preseason: “Nope, there’s probably only one that I would probably say you would probably see less of in the preseason. And you’ve probably seen less of him in last year’s one, and not much of him in the year before’s one, but he didn’t finish the season in IR. I’m talking about Julio. But past that, it’s by individual. Some guys definitely need the work, and they would want it, too.”
On getting Julio ready for the season: “We’ve got a good plan in order. We know where we need him to get to. We’re gaining closer to that spot where he’s able to do some of the individual work. He does all the night walk through work. So he’s getting the installations. And then the next piece is starting into some routes on air and the 7-on-7s. So a month out, we’re on our markers that we wanted to hit heading to it, and then there will be some other ones on the 7th and other ones on the 14th and the 21st, to where that is full-speed practice with the guys to get the conditioning right. He’s working hard on that part, conditioning, but as you guys have heard and you know, you can’t simulate what we had yesterday — a 17-play drive, a four-play punt, and a 13-play drive. That’s a man-maker … so he’s pushing it hard from a conditioning standpoint, but nothing like the practice work that you get with the guys.”
On the game plan for Thursday: “I think more than anything, the preseason is such a time for evaluation. So what I would love to see offensively, defensively, on teams, is let’s see the guys play. And we’re going to cover kicks, and we’re going to return them, and we want to see calls that they can really execute time after time, because that’s the part that Thomas and I and the staff need the most to say, this is what he can do at his best, fundamentals, technique-wise. So it’ll feel vanilla, but that’s by intention, because it’s not the time for wrinkles. It’s the time to see where are we getting on our fundamentals. So that’s always been my philosophy. It’ll feel very vanilla. The game plan could fit into my front pocket. But it’s not a matter of the scheme part of it; it’s a matter of how we play.”
The Falcons will travel tomorrow and will be in Canton, Ohio, on Thursday for the Hall of Fame game against Denver. The next practice that’s open to the media is also open to the public. The Falcons will host Military Appreciation Day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 4 at