Training camp is back in full force, and there’s nothing like going out and viewing the action. This is the first camp under a new regime, and not only is it important to see how the atmosphere is under new Head Coach Arthur Smith, but it’s just as important to see how the team is gelling and what players are standing out, especially with the pads on.
As expected, there is definitely some sloppiness on the field, but there are some players that are standing out in a major way. Most importantly, the team knows that there’s an open competition for most positions on the field. Hearing the pads pop, feeling the intensity and watching players go after it has just been a massive amount of fun. There are a few aspects of camp that certainly have caught my eye that are worth mentioning, and I wanted to share them here after the first week or so of camp.
The presence of Kyle Pitts even in these early days is truly extraordinary. He’s a hard worker, appears very mature for his age, and his catch radius and athleticism are off the charts. I’ve only seen a small sample, but this kid has the potential to be elite.
He’s smooth off of the line of scrimmage, deliberate and consistent in his drive phase, and his ability to sink his hips going into his breaks looks very good. He will definitely need to work on his releases when it comes to press coverage, but there’s nothing to me that indicates that he won’t get better as the weeks pass. Also, as expected, Pitts is being put in multiple positions on the field and is seen in motion quite a bit. It’s clear that Coach Smith has big plans for the rookie tight end.
The wide receiver group
Its very easy to tell that this group is well aware that there is an open competition down the depth chart after Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. Ridley is looking as smooth as ever and seems to be 100% after his offseason surgery, but the rest of the group has really been making plays all over the field.
There were times where the defensive back group had them well covered, but they were simply making better plays on the ball. With Russell Gage, I was a huge fan of his coming out of LSU, because he’s just a football player. However, I’ve always seen him as a slot receiver. What I will say about Gage is that it’s quite obvious that he’s worked tirelessly on his route running and his hands because there’s consistent improvement there.
There are some other players that have been making plays, but overall, the group is really going after it and I’m content with the progress they’re making. Ridley and Gage look set as the top two, which is a significant piece of the puzzle.
This group is one of the groups I had a laser focus on for obvious reasons. Going into camp, there were question marks about the center and left guard positions in particular. As of now, it’s looking pretty clear that Matt Hennessy is the starting center, as he’s taking the majority of the first team reps. Hennessy is looking confident, moving well and is building a rapport with Matt Ryan.
When it comes to left guard, Josh Andrews looks to be taking the majority of the 1st team reps, but rookie Chris Dalman has taken some also as time goes on. Andrews certainly looks good in the running game, which is his strength, but he’s been beaten pretty cleanly on some pass pro reps. It’s going to be a battle worth monitoring unless Andrews starts running away with it.
Due to Kaleb McGary being on the PUP list, rookie Jalen Mayfield has taken the majority of his snaps at RT. Because we no idea when McGary is coming back, Mayfield will be a bit behind when it comes to possibly taking the starting LG role, but the athleticism and nastiness is certainly there.
There have been some flashes within the group, but overall, the offensive has some work to do from a continuity (which comes with more reps) and technique standpoint.
As the saying goes, the game is won or lost in the trenches. As it sits right now, outside of Grady Jarrett doing Grady Jarrett things, this group has been underwhelming. There have been a few players that have shown flashes, most notably John Cominsky (who had a good day during 1-on-1s) and Ade Ogundeji (who has shown some consistency with the pads on).
I fully expect Ogundeji to see some snaps in the regular season as I saw him as a sleeper pick in the 2021 NFL draft. There’s certainly potential on the defensive line and it’s still early, so time will tell if the unit ends up being a productive one. They have work to do.
This group, in my opinion, is one of the most crucial. If this defense is to have any success, the defensive bac group must be productive. Fortunately for the Falcons, A.J. Terrell looks the part of a legitimate #1 cornerback. With a full offseason, he has refined his technique even more and has had some amazing reps against Ridley and Pitts.
In his first season as a Falcon, Fabian Moreau has rarely been out of position on the field so far. Again, it’s still early, but Moreau is making a case to line up as the other outside cornerback.
Rookie Safety Richie Grant has shown some flashes in coverage as well, showing his balls skills and athleticism. Even 2nd year Safety Jaylinn Hawkins is showing improvement in coverage and has displayed his hitting ability, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can carve out a larger role. The DB group as a whole is being tested by defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and it’s safe to say there is some daily progression.
There is so much to watch during Coach Smith’s first training camp, that it’s quite easy to miss a few things. One of the most important aspects of Coach Smith’s camp is accountability. Seeing the entire offense, including Ryan, running a lap after a team infraction shows that no one is exempt from an accountability standpoint. That’s something this team had lacked from the prior coaching staff, and it’s good to see.
The other aspect of camp that warms my heart is during 11 on 11 there is so much motion on the offensive side of the ball and so much movement on the defensive side. I’ve said before that this team still has some holes on the roster, but seeing new schemes and coaching approaches has certainly been fun to watch, and we’ll see what it translates into when the season starts.