Amid the glowing reports that constantly surface at this time of year, my favorite piece of information out of training camp is always talk of how veteran players are taking young rookies under their wings and helping them grasp the game of football at the NFL level.
A few of the Atlanta Falcons veterans have taken that mentorship role in stride, doing their best to try and help the team’s rookies get up to speed in a season where that mentorship is more important than ever given the absence of the preseason.
First round selection A.J. Terrell will be the rookie most closely looked at under the microscope this season, as the team’s starting CB, following the departure of Desmond Trufant. The team’s official Twitter account caught this image of Keanu Neal discussing what appears to be some strategy with the 2020 first rounder.
Coach Keanu and the mentee pic.twitter.com/yAN0qIpk6P— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) August 24, 2020
Neal is making his return from back to back season-ending injuries, and he’s taken a leadership role in a secondary where he’s suddenly one of the veterans.
Among the other leaders on the defense whom Terrell can lean on in his education is also of course Ricardo Allen, who has been acclaimed for his intelligence and intangibles throughout his career.
Beyond Terrell, fourth-round selection Mykal Walker has been making headlines at camp for his superb play. Atlanta’s headline free agent acquisition, Dante Fowler, has showcased a willingness to provide off-the-field value in addition to the on-field heroics the Falcons hope to get from him in the coming years.
Mykal Walker says Dante Fowler took him to the side after seeing the rookie rush the passer and gave him some advice and taught him some new moves. Walker greatly appreciated that.— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) August 24, 2020
Fowler is a former prized pass rusher out of the University of Florida and is coming off of a career year where he recorded 11.5 sacks. He certainly knows a thing or two about the art of the pass rush, and it’s refreshing to see him pass along some wisdom to the rookie.
My favorite example of this teacher-pupil illustration we are seeing in camp comes from the veteran and consummate professional Alex Mack, who is helping to train up third-round selection Matt Hennessy.
When Matt Hennessy was making the transition from tackle to center going from HS to college he said he watched a lot of film on Alex Mack. Now teammates, Hennessy said he's never been around a teammate who goes out of his way to help someone else the way Mack does.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) August 26, 2020
What brings Alex Mack’s mentorship to a different level is that he is helping to develop his eventual replacement.
The Falcons drafted Hennessy with plans of him taking over the starting center role as early as next year. Mack knows this, but he also knows that the team’s short term success could also be bolstered by Hennessy, as the Temple alum is also in the running for this year’s starting left guard job.
As wonderful as it would sound for all veteran players to help coach up their eventual successors in preparation to symbolically pass the torch, not many guys are too eager to help groom the young guy who could take their job. This is just the latest example in the professionalism of Alex Mack, who has set the standard in Atlanta since signing with the Falcons in 2016.