The Falcons participated in the first padded practice of their 2020 training camp yesterday. I wasn’t personally in attendance, but if I had to guess, there was a healthy mixture of excitement and apprehension going into it. Ya know, like when you were excited to take the driving test but simultaneously deathly afraid because crowded roadways are scary places to be in large, quickly moving metal boxes on wheels. What? That wasn’t your experience?! Stop yelling!
Back to football. On the one hand, padded practices signal the impending arrival of the regular season. But on the other hand, keeping everyone healthy during a global pandemic gets a little more when complicated the actual football starts. Pads get you closer to contact and contact is the opposite of social distancing. This isn’t hard to figure out. But let’s stop panicking about what’s possible for a moment and talk about what happened yesterday.
Vaughn McClure effectively summed up Tuesday’s practice with this tweet:
Falcons first padded practice:— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) August 18, 2020
Mykal Walker for INT; Charles Harris for tipped pass
A.J. Terrell keeping up with Julio
Russ Gage for dropping ball over middle; Offense rusty
Kendall Sheffield back but limited with banged up foot
Gurley, Mack load management rest
Pass defense was apparently the name of the game on Tuesday, and there were plenty of standout performances in the Falcons secondary. The Mothership’s William McFadden had a nice breakdown, and this is one of the highlights:
It was a good day for the primary members of the secondary, and players like Isaiah Oliver, A.J. Terrell, Darqueze Dennard and Kendall Sheffield looked smooth and confident while lining up against some of Atlanta’s best receivers [...] Dennard was especially impressive during these drills and during the full-team moments, showing plenty of quickness and anticipation to undercut routes or break on the receiver. He was far from alone in that regard, however, as both Terrell and Oliver carried themselves with a lot of confidence and trusted in their technique to make plays on the ball.
Who doesn’t love to read such a rave review, even if was just their first day in pads? Praise continued to be heaped on Falcons first round draft pick A.J. Terrell, with Dan Quinn saying this:
Dan Quinn on A.J. Terrell: “He’s really a real competitor. ... He’s got fantastic ball skills to go up and get it.’’— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) August 18, 2020
The Falcons desperately need their secondary to play better than they are expected to in 2020, which isn’t asking much, if you think about it. Whether it’s the veteran presence of Dennard, the competitiveness of Terrell, or the pure leadership of a healthy Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, the Falcons have the pieces to field a competitive defense. They just have to do it—plain and simple. It’s just a matter of getting the most out of the players and having them gel as a unit, as simple as that seems.
D. Orlando Ledbetter singled out Mykal Walker’s play in his observations, saying this about the rookie linebacker:
Rookie linebacker Mykal Walker, a fourth-round pick, is finding the ball in the run and pass game. He intercepted a Matt Schaub pass that was slightly behind the receiver and popped up in the air. Walker hauled it down.
Walker similarly impressed McFadden, who noted in his piece that the rookie showed “good awareness on the play.”
So it would appear, at least one day into padded practices, that the Falcons’ defensive rookies have come out firing. That’s a relief, given the infusion of talent we knew the Falcons defense would need during the offseason. I’m not too worried about the offense looking a little rusty out the gate; not with so many good things being said about the defense. That may prove to be a cause for concern down the road, but we can cross that bridge if we get there.
Your thoughts on Tuesday’s practice, Falcoholics?