The Falcons kicked off the first week of preseason practice on Monday, meaning we’re just a few short days away from some live NFL football. Here are some of the most interesting observations from Day 10 of Training Camp, including the return of Kaleb McGary and Dante Fowler and an impressive, turnover-heavy performance from the defense.
Kaleb McGary, Dante Fowler, and others return to the field
The Falcons made a flurry of roster moves on Monday. RB D’Onta Foreman, formerly of the Titans and Texans, was officially signed while CB Tyler Hall and DT Deadrin Senat were waived. Those moves cleared the way for the return of Kaleb McGary from the PUP list, marking the first time Atlanta’s starting right tackle could take the practice field.
We have signed RB D'Onta Foreman. We have activated Willie Wright and Kaleb McGary to the active roster. In addition, we have released Tyler Hall and have waived/injured Deadrin Senat. https://t.co/GwKIs44ZJs— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) August 9, 2021
McGary reportedly got some warm-up reps with the second team, while Willie Beavers continued to take the first-team snaps at right tackle. Meanwhile, Dante Fowler Jr. also returned to the practice field and impressed, looking significantly more explosive than Atlanta’s other options at EDGE. RB Qadree Ollison and EDGE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner also returned after brief absences, while FB Keith Smith, CB Kendall Sheffield, and WR Austin Trammell remained out.
A.J. Terrell continues to turn heads
If there’s a defensive player who has consistently impressed during training camp, it’s 2020 first-round pick A.J. Terrell. He’s been excellent throughout, showing all the signs of a second-year leap even considering he was one of the best rookie corners in the league last season. Terrell had another standout day on Monday, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.
In the 7-on-7 session, Terrell had a near-INT on a Matt Ryan pass. He’s been playing very well, even when matched up with Atlanta’s top receiving threats in Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Kyle Pitts. The Falcons are going to need Terrell to play at a CB1 level if the defense is going to have any hope of competence, but it looks like the young corner is ready to meet the challenge.
Defense dominates, forces multiple turnovers
Speaking of impressive defense, Atlanta’s stole the show on Monday with a turnover-heavy performance. There were at least four interceptions during practice, with Fabian Moreau, Erik Harris, and Isaiah Oliver notching some very impressive plays against the first-team offense.
Also of note, Mykal Walker got his hands on a pick when working against A.J. McCarron. The ball was tipped by safety Jaylinn Hawkins, who has also been one of the most consistently impressive defenders on the second team. After coming in to the offseason as one of the biggest question marks on the roster, the secondary suddenly seems like it could be a strength.
Before anyone gets too concerned about the offense, it’s worth mentioning a few things. For starters, the defense always has the advantage at the beginning of training camp—especially when the offense is changing to a completely different system and still working on install. Also, Arthur Smith specifically mentioned that they were working on some new wrinkles with the QBs. This is practice, and we should treat it as such.
Adetokunbo Ogundeji continues working with the starters
While primary starter Dante Fowler Jr. finally returned to the practice field—and was impressive in limited action—rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji continued to turn heads. The fifth-round pick has steadily climbed his way up the depth chart, and the return of Fowler doesn’t seem to have affected his ability to earn reps with the starters.
Ade Ogundeji may be getting first team reps with the Falcons, but he still has post-practice rookie duties. pic.twitter.com/6RJ2LoVsn4— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) August 9, 2021
With the depth chart at edge rusher more or less wide open behind Fowler, it seems like Ogundeji is making a strong case for a permanent spot in the rotation. While Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Steven Means have performed at a solid level thus far, Ogundeji has a lot more long-term upside. It’ll be interesting to see how big of a role the rookie can carve out over the course of the preseason, but it’s entirely possible he’s the starter opposite Fowler at some point this season.
Returner battle, backup QB likely to be decided by preseason games
We’re just four days away from the Falcons’ first preseason game on Friday against the Titans. While the starters are unlikely to play much in this first exhibition—particularly Kaleb McGary, who has been all but ruled out—this first game could be key for the punt return and backup QB battles. Arthur Smith remarked during his press conference that “nothing can really replicate those live reps” with regards to those two spots.
We’ve seen a lot of shuffling and competition at the punt returner spot in particular throughout training camp, but it looks like Avery Williams and Chris Rowland are the two biggest contenders with Austin Trammell still sidelined. Meanwhile, veteran QB A.J. McCarron and UDFA Feleipe Franks are both likely to see a ton of snaps on Friday. How each performs in a live situation could go a long way to determining Matt Ryan’s backup for the 2021 season.
Thanks for following along today, and once again I’m giving a big shout out to Michael Rothstein for his notes from Monday’s practice. As mentioned above, Atlanta’s first preseason game is just a few days from today: Friday, August 13 at 7:00 PM ET. We’ll be providing live play-by-play coverage on The Falcoholic Live, so stay tuned for updates on when the show will be on the air!