Mandatory minicamp is the last significant item on the calendar between now and training camp, minus perhaps a small flurry of roster moves. With almost the full team on hand, it’s our first real glimpse at how this year’s team is going to shape up.
Some of the updates are continuations of earlier observations—Desmond Ridder’s progress, the center competition—but they’re still worthwhile. Others, such as Elijah Wilkinson getting time at left guard and who’s not going to get to practice in minicamp, are totally new. Either way, it’s nice to have something tangible to talk about with this Falcons team, isn’t it?
As always, it’s worth keeping up with all the hard-working reporters at minicamp, and especially worth reading ESPN reporter Mike Rothstein’s wrapup notes from days like these. Let’s get into the observations, but if you missed his notes, they’re below.
Some thoughts and observations from Day 1 of mandatory minicamp for the Atlanta Falcons: pic.twitter.com/2b1TWQsoHM— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) June 14, 2022
Let’s get to it.
The center competition will be worthwhile in training camp
As you’ll see from Rothstein’s notes above, Drew Dalman appeared to be working with the starters again. Matt Hennessy and Dalman will likely rotate first team reps throughout training camp and preseason, making the center competition a lot more interesting than it was a year ago, when Hennessy seemed to win it without significant resistance. Remember, Dalman is a draft pick for the new regime, and a player they appear to like a lot, so I would assume this is a truly open battle.
We’ve talked about some of the options available at center—J.C. Tretter is the best of them—but I’m not certain any major additions along the line will come at the position. The Falcons seemed content to let Hennessy run away with the starting job a year ago, but Dalman’s in his second season and the coaching staff clearly wanted him to get some run during the 2021 season. This ought to be a true two man competition, and one of the more lively ones of the summer, if June is any indication.
Elijah Wilkinson drawing left guard reps
One of the quietly interesting questions of the offseason concerned Wilkinson, a veteran offensive line signing with 27 starts under his belt but without a clear role to play. Germain Ifedi and Kaleb McGary appear to be battling for the right tackle job, Chris Lindstrom is set at right guard, and Wilkinson hadn’t really played on the left side of the line to this point in his NFL career. He figured to be headed for a reserve role.
That’s still probably the case, but as Rothstein noted, Wikinson appears to be getting some time at left guard. If that’s the case, he’ll be expanding the number of roles he can play for this line and likely giving himself a leg up on a roster spot. There’s always the small chance he’ll push Jalen Mayfield for the left guard job, but we’re so early into this thing that it’s only worth a passing thought at the moment. Either way, Wilkinson’s experience, relative youth, and ability to play multiple positions figures to work in his favor this summer.
Deion Jones, Vincent Taylor and Keith Smith not practicing
Arthur Smith said Deion Jones, Keith Smith and Vincent Taylor will not be practicing at mandatory minicamp because of their offseason procedures.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) June 14, 2022
Owing to injuries and offseason surgeries, we won’t see any of these three players this week.
For Jones, that’s not a surprise, given that he’s going to be out for a little bit. We’re still uncertain what his future with the Falcons looks like, but if he stays in Atlanta he’ll likely have a significant role on this defense once healthy. This gives Rashaan Evans, Troy Andersen, Nick Kwiatkoski and Mykal Walker time to compete with one another and gel a bit as they all jockey for roles in a suddenly crowded inside linebacker group.
Smith is pretty well locked in as the fullback, one would assume, so this absence hopefully will be a short one and he’ll return to being a reliable blocker and special teamer for this squad. Taylor, meanwhile, is competing for a role on the interior of the defensive line and will hopefully also be back soon so he can make his case for a roster spot. We just won’t see any of them until training camp at the earliest.
Are roster moves on the way?
Tori McElhaney suggested, as she has before, that the receiver group is going to change relatively soon. In her estimation, only Drake London, Bryan Edwards, and Olamide Zaccheaus are guaranteed spots, and “not everyone will make it to training camp or even through training camp,” as he puts it.
With the news that the Falcons welcomed a handful of tryout players to Flowery Branch, Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot talking about adding to the trenches, and the fact that there’s still plenty of capable free agents out there, it certainly feels like the bottom of the roster might be turning over a bit between now and late July. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it happen at the end of this week.
Desmond Ridder learning on the job
Really good stuff.— Maria Martin (@Ria_Martin) June 14, 2022
Asked #Falcons rookie QB Desmond Ridder what the biggest adjustment to an NFL offense has been so far, "play calls 100%."
Said he goes home every night records the script into his iPhone, then puts airpods back in and reads it back out. @JwPalms @desmondridder pic.twitter.com/SYFMM0SbzR
Ridder’s going to make the quarterback competition interesting this summer, even if Rothstein and others have observed that Marcus Mariota has looked noticeably better throwing the ball in the early going. Ridder’s progress is going to be something to watch once we get to late July, and the work he’s going to put in is obvious regardless of how that competition shakes out.