Going into today’s practice between the Falcons and Dolphins, I was really hoping to see starters and backups alike hold their own against a quality team. There are a million caveats here, all of which should be readily apparent given that it’s just a practice, but it appears Atlanta showed up and largely showed out.
I think this tweet from Locked On Falcons host Aaron Freeman sums up the reasons to feel encouraged, from an anonymous observer of Dolphins practices both today and in the past:
This doesn’t guarantee a fun preseason game or even a great practice tomorrow, but it made for an entertaining and encouraging day today. Aside from Jaylen Waddle getting a highlight reel against Darren Hall and some continued struggles for the Falcons offense, it was a good day for a Falcons team that flew south hoping to compete and hone their skills.
Now let’s talk notes from reporters at the joint practices, which are numerous.
Is dominates too strong of a word? I don’t care, it’s practice and it makes me feel good. There were no shortage of reporters telling us the defensive line and front seven in particular were doing quality work all day.
Falcons DL/front-7 has been killing Dolphins OL today.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 18, 2021
I think the Falcons might be on double digit sacks today. pic.twitter.com/Iv3Dug21Xc— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 18, 2021
Atlanta put the brakes on the first team offense helmed by Tua Tagovailoa, continually pressuring the young quarterback to make life tougher for him. It sounds like Miami’s offensive line may have some challenges heading into the year and the Dolphins were down several receivers, so there’s a caveat or two here as well, but the pass rush has looked active and relentless throughout practice this summer and did nice work against the Titans in the early going. I’ll take it.
Ade Ogundeji continues to work with the first team, and while we’re still a few weeks away from knowing if that translates to significant work in regular season games, he’s clearly further along than many of us (myself very much included) would have anticipated. Given that Jacob Tuioti-Mariner has looked good, Steven Means is reliable and Dante Fowler is back, the Falcons are at least giving us something other than doom and gloom in the outside linebacker group.
Ade Ogundeji getting a lot of work again today, including a significant amount with the first unit. Nothing new, but a continuing trend.— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) August 18, 2021
The less impressive thing? Jacoby Brissett marched the reserve Dolphins offense down the field against the Falcons backups for a touchdown, potentially foreshadowing some ugliness to come on Saturday in preseason. We know that group has some work to do outside of a couple of standouts, though, so let’s hope the lumps they took today helps them improve tomorrow.
Offense manages some big plays
It appears Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley are just as capable of doing highlight-worthy work against other teams, even against cornerbacks as good as Xavien Howard.
The first team offense did settle for a field goal against Miami while practicing a drive, but generally speaking Matt Ryan connected well with the likes of Ridley, Olamide Zaccheaus and Pitts, and Mike Davis reportedly had at least one nice run. Getting a solid day out of the first team offense against a tough Miami defense is a good start, especially since we’re not going to see that group together outside of practice all that much before the regular season.
A.J. McCarron had a solid day against the Dolphins punctuated by a 60 yard touchdown pass to Juwan Green, who should get a lot of run against Miami this weekend. Given that Feleipe Franks scuffled a bit in practice today, McCarron’s presumed lead on Franks for that backup job is probably still intact and may actually grow. Unless Matt Ryan gets a few surprise snaps, those two will once again split work Saturday.
Big play alert -- in 2-minute drill, AJ McCarron hit a wide open Juwan Green for a 60-yard touchdown.— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) August 18, 2021
Green also had a catch in with starters during their 2-minute drill.
Finally, the offensive line continued to feature plenty of Willie Beavers, who would seem to be running away with the swing tackle job at this point. Jalen Mayfield got more work at left guard today with Andrews missing some reps and appeared to look more comfortable. Reports indicated the line was at least solid, which we needed to hear after watching the Titans game.
Willie Beavers seems to be getting work at Left Tackle with the 2s just as Coach Smith said he would. Mayfield is getting the team 2 LG reps and puts Benito Jones in the dirt #FalconsDolphinsPractice— Gates (@TheGent28) August 18, 2021
Cam Nizialek still in lead for punter role?
We’ll see when we get to the preseason game, but Nizialek did pretty good work against the Titans and has gotten enough work since he joined up that he would appear to be the favorite. That continued today, as he alternated kickoffs with Younghoe Koo.
#Falcons Cam Nizialek and Younghoe Koo alternating on the kickoffs. I asked Koo if he got his cleats back yesterday in the indoor facility and he said, “no.”— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) August 18, 2021
Dom Maggio may make a late push, but the fact that he appears to be working behind Nizialek and that Sterling Hofrichter is on injured reserve bodes well for the former University of Georgia product. All he has to do is seize the opportunity.
The most important thing: No new injuries
The Falcons had a couple of scares, including Josh Andrews leaving practice, but it seems as though everyone got through mostly unscathed. Both Andrews and T.J. Green were down with cramps, but nothing more serious.
Josh Andrews came out of today's practice for a bit, but he's fine. Arthur Smith said he cramped up.— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) August 18, 2021
Again, my expectations are that the Falcons will prioritize team health and largely park starters against Miami, but Arthur Smith has not come out and said he’ll be sitting a ton of guys just yet. Every day we get closer to the season without losing anyone is a good day.
We should be careful not to make any sweeping conclusions based on today, but if you’re feeling reasonably encouraged by the team’s overall performance in practice, that’s great. Hopefully the Falcons are trending toward being a capable regular season team after we’ve endured three crummy years in a row.