The Falcons held their first open practice of 2021 Training Camp on Saturday, with fans flocking to Flowery Branch to see the new roster and coaching staff for the first time. Kevin Knight and Adnan Ikic were on-site to observe today’s practice, and they’ve compiled their top observations for you below.
Kyle Pitts looks exactly as advertised
For most fans, the biggest question on their mind is: just how good is Kyle Pitts? The rookie tight end was selected 4th overall by the Falcons in the 2021 NFL Draft, making him the highest-drafted player at his position of all time. Well, I’ve got some good news for fans: Pitts looks dominant against NFL competition thus far.
Kyle Pitts just dusted Duron Harmon on a route, wow. #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 31, 2021
I wish I could have taken a video for you—there was no recording allowed during this portion of practice—but Kyle Pitts just about broke Duron Harmon’s ankles on his route. Tight ends do not move like that, and you could tell it caught Harmon off guard. Pitts had a strong practice throughout and was targeted frequently by Matt Ryan. He’s looking exactly as advertised thus far, and that’s very exciting for Atlanta’s offense in 2021.
AJ Terrell looks poised for a breakout season
This year’s first round pick, Kyle Pitts, has generated a lot of buzz and rightfully so. It seems like last year’s first round pick A.J. Terrell is being forgotten about as “yesterday’s news” a little bit as a result, but don’t overlook Terrell in Dean Pees’ defense this season.
The CB out of Clemson is coming off of a good rookie year and he looks like he’ll be even better as the team’s CB1 this upcoming season. One play in particular stood out:
AJ Terrell with some stifling coverage on Russell Gage in a one on one drill. Excellent technique, and used the sideline as a help defender. Result was a batted away pass.— Adnan Ikic (@SayWhichWay) July 31, 2021
Terrell is exhibiting all of the instincts and technique necessary as the team’s future shutdown number 1 CB. I’ll be excited to see his progress this year.
Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot address the fans
It was advertised prior to practice that fans would get a chance to hear from both head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot. The address from Smith was short and very much to-the-point—as I’m sure you’d expect if you’ve seen his press conferences—but Fontenot spent a little more time with fans.
Smith: We want to put the best possible team on the field for you guys. It means a lot for you guys to be here.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 31, 2021
Smith was very excited to have fans back at Flowery Branch and reiterated his commitment to building the best possible team for Atlanta. He talked about how they were going to put in the work and do things the right way, and made an impassioned plea for fans to come cheer for the team on gameday. Smith also thanked fans profusely for being there and you could tell it was a very impactful moment for him to interact with the fanbase for the first time.
Fontenot: The game was not the same without you guys last year. We need you guys, we appreciate you guys. You can make an impact on the games and we hope to see you all at the stadium. #Falcons pic.twitter.com/EVUW8icr1M— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 31, 2021
Fontenot spoke for a little while longer, but largely echoed Smith’s comments. He talked about how excited he was for fans to be back and how the staff and players were going to work hard to put a team on the field the city could be proud of. Fontenot also asked fans to consider coming out to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on gamedays, saying that they absolutely can and do affect the game by being loud and cheering on the team.
Russell Gage is clearly the team’s WR2 and Olamide Zaccheaus looks to be in the lead for the WR3 competition
In case anyone thought Gage was in danger of potentially losing his role as the starting WR alongside Calvin Ridley, today showed that that won’t be happening any time soon. Ridley and Gage actually worked away from the rest of the team’s WRs for most of the day when it came to individual drills, catching red zone passes from the quarterbacks, indicating that they’re both clearly above the WR competition going on on the depth chart behind them.
Zaccheaus stood out through most of the morning, running crisp routes and having a very impressive one on one performance against Isaiah Oliver in an open field tackling drill.
Olamide Zaccheaus just completely juked out Isaiah Oliver in a one on one drill. I’d say he’s an early favorite for the slot WR role.— Adnan Ikic (@SayWhichWay) July 31, 2021
Thanks to his experience as a Falcon (he was on the roster the past two seasons), Olamide is in the early lead to see the field when the team incorporates 3-wide receiver sets, and he did nothing to relinquish that lead today.
The defense is creating turnovers
Saturday’s practice featured three interceptions from the defense: one from Deion Jones, one from Mykal Walker, and one on a tipped pass by UDFA CB Chris Williamson. There were also a number of impressive pass breakups by a whole host of defensive players, including A.J. Terrell, rookie Darren Hall, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, and even Steven Means.
There definitely appears to be an emphasis on creating takeaways and getting hands on the ball early in training camp. That’s a good thing, as this undermanned defense is likely to need turnovers to keep opponents scoring in check. The defense definitely has an advantage this early in camp, especially with the offensive scheme changing under Arthur Smith. We’ll see if this trend holds as camp continues.
UDFA Austin Trammell stands out
The top three wide receivers seem fairly established in Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Olamide Zaccheaus, but the depth chart is wide open behind them. Yesterday’s standout was reportedly Christian Blake, but another UDFA stole the show today: Austin Trammell.
UDFA WR Austin Trammell getting first team reps and targets here in 7-on-7. Nice route and catch on a pass from Matt Ryan. #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 31, 2021
Trammell languished behind a revolving door of QBs at Rice, but put together his most impressive season in 2020: in just 3 games, he put up 16 receptions for 335 yards (20.9 YPR) and 6 (!) TDs. He reportedly models his game after Wes Welker, and it shows. Trammell was elusive in the open field, explosive in his breaks, and surehanded when catching the ball. He even got some additional opportunities today with the first team, with targets and catches from Ryan.
Trammell was also working with the returners, so the team seems to be trying to find a role for him somewhere. It’ll be tough for him to make the roster with Atlanta likely to keep only five WRs this year, but Trammell seems to be an early favorite for the practice squad.
Javian Hawkins looks good
Hawkins was an incredibly talented and standout running back at Louisville, earning All-ACC honors as a redshirt freshman after setting a school record with 1,525 rushing yards in 2019. He averaged even more yards per rush and developed his game as a receiver out of the backfield last season before opting out in the middle of the year.
Javian Hawkins with a TD in 11-on-11. Outran the whole defense. #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 31, 2021
Hawkins went undrafted but he landed in a very promising spot in Atlanta, where the running back depth chart is wide open behind Mike Davis. The Louisville alum was impressive today and he had an incredible touchdown run to impress coaches. I think he’ll not only make the roster, but also compete for carries.