The Falcons held their first padded practice of 2021 Training Camp on Tuesday. It was a much quieter day at Flowery Branch, with a light drizzle, overcast conditions, and high humidity, but the fans who braved the rain were treated to a show by Kyle Pitts and the receiving corps. Here are some of my observations from Day 5.
Kyle Pitts puts on a show
The first padded practice amps up the energy quite a bit—you could tell players, particularly on defense, were excited to be able to put their hands on the offense for a change. If you were concerned that rookie TE Kyle Pitts wouldn’t continue his dominant start to training camp once the pads and contact began, I can tell you with complete confidence not to worry.
This is just one of the many impressive plays Pitts had on Tuesday. He showed off his entire skillset, moving around the formation and making plays in a variety of ways. Whether it was contested catch situations, downfield targets, or leaping grabs, Pitts did it all. He scored multiple TDs in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods and looked like the most impactful offensive weapon on the team—though it’s worth noting that Calvin Ridley is not playing a full complement of snaps in those periods.
Young players impress on the offensive line
With Kaleb McGary and Matt Gono out on the PUP list, today’s padded practice was the first real test for rookie offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield at right tackle. While it wasn’t completely full-contact, the OL mostly held their own during today’s 11-on-11 sessions. Once again, the drills for both OL and DL were on the far side of the field, so it was hard to get much there.
Arthur Smith also said he was really impressed with how the rookie offensive linemen--Jalen Mayfield at RT and Drew Dalman, who was getting some 1st team reps at LG--were coming along. Said they had a good first day in pads.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) August 3, 2021
I asked Arthur Smith about his thoughts on how the young offensive linemen were holding up, and he was very complimentary. Drew Dalman appears to also be earning some rotational snaps at left guard—he split time with veteran Josh Andrews in the final 11-on-11 period. On that note, Matt Hennessy has also continued to impress me. He has moved well and asserted himself as a leader on the offensive line in his second NFL training camp—and appears to have the starting center job firmly under control at this point.
Injury updates on Kaleb McGary and Tyeler Davison
Speaking of the offensive line, I asked Arthur Smith during today’s press conference for an update on Kaleb McGary’s status. He didn’t provide any new intel, but from his answer it did sound like the team is expecting him back fairly soon. Again, I don’t really know what that means, but it doesn’t sound like something that will linger into the season.
I asked Arthur Smith for an update on #Falcons starting right tackle Kaleb McGary's status.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) August 3, 2021
On McGary: He's doing well, but no big updates. Expecting him back sooner than later, he's doing everything the staff is asking of him.
Smith also revealed that starting nose tackle Tyeler Davison was out today with some sort of minor injury. He’s not expected to miss much time, but it’s worth monitoring going forward. DT Chris Slayton got a fair amount of work at nose as a result, and the team also used a lot of pass-rushing fronts.
Highlight reel plays from Hayden Hurst, Christian Blake
I was on the media side of things today, which meant I was allowed to record short video clips for you guys. The receiving corps certainly didn’t disappoint, with a number of impressive grabs right in front of the sideline. Here’s an impressive one-handed catch from Hayden Hurst.
There were too many good plays to mention in this recap—check my Twitter feed for more clips, and I’ll be posting additional ones throughout the day as well. Perhaps the most photogenic catch of 11-on-11 came in the final minutes of practice, with wide receiver Christian Blake playing through a hold by defensive back Kendall Sheffield to come down with a leaping TD catch.
It’s also worth noting that this was a great throw by UDFA QB Feleipe Franks—who was actually given the opportunity to work with the 2s during the latter portions of today’s practice. WR Juwan Green also had a strong day playing mostly with the 2s, with a TD catch and a couple of other impressive grabs.
Defense continues to create turnovers
You can tell that creating turnovers is an emphasis for new defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Any time a ball hits the turf—even if it’s a dropped ball or incomplete pass—the coaches call for the defenders to get the ball. The best turnover of the day came from veteran safety Erik Harris, who read the play perfectly and broke on the ball for the INT.
Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun also jarred the ball out for a forced fumble during 11-on-11s, and there were several impressive PBUs—including another one by Darren Hall, this time against rookie WR Frank Darby on what would have been a TD. There may be some issues with this defense in 2021, but a lack of aggressiveness will not be among them.
Ogundeji, Graham, and Bullard earn more 1st team reps on the DL
Speaking of the defense, we did get to see some of the rookie defensive linemen in work with the 1st and 2nd string. Arthur Smith seems to run a mixed 1s and 2s 11-on-11 session most of the time, which gives a lot of players opportunities to play with the starters and vice-versa.
On the DL, rookies getting more work with the starters today. Adetokunbo Ogundeji at EDGE and Ta'Quon Graham on the interior. #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) August 3, 2021
EDGE Adetokunbo Ogundeji and DT Ta’Quon Graham got plenty of opportunities with the 1s and 2s today, and looked like they belonged. Smith has been pretty adamant about making the rookies earn their starting reps, but he’s also shown a willingness to give players an opportunity. Other notable secondary players to get work in the 1s and 2s session: safety Richie Grant, safety T.J. Green, CB Darren Hall, and CB Chris Williamson.
Thanks for following along with me today! I’ll be back on the sideline with the media on Wednesday, which will sadly be my final day at training camp this year. Look out for more updates and clips throughout the day, as well as a Falcoholic Live recap this afternoon.