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Falcons training camp recap: Day 2

The second day of Falcons training camp was, mercifully, a bit cooler. Thankfully, the action at practice was definitely still hot, as we saw a very strong performance from the defense along with a standout day from rookie WR Drake London.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The second day of Atlanta Falcons training camp was, mercifully, a bit cooler. Thankfully, the action on the field remained hot as the team ran quite a bit of 11-on-11 full-team work during today’s practice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to record during any of the team sessions, but I did take plenty of notes to share with you!

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Defense shines on the second day

After a surprisingly impressive performance by the offense to open training camp, the Falcons defense rebounded in a big way. Atlanta’s coverage was excellent through the majority of practice, forcing a lot of checkdowns and even having plays blown dead due to too much time passing—there are no real sacks since this isn’t full contact. The run defense was also stellar, largely shutting down every running back not named Damien Williams. But more on him later.

The first and second team unit looked strong today. Atlanta’s run defense was one of the worst in the league in 2021, so improvements there will be absolutely necessary if the defensive improvement were hoping for will actually happen. I’m happy to report that the defensive line looked stout up front, and the play of the linebackers to fill gaps and flow to the ball was impressive. Richie Grant also stood out in a positive way, stopping Kyle Pitts for a minimal gain and nearly picking off a pass intended for Bryan Edwards.

Drake London’s big day

While I was unable to record any of the team drills today, I can report that first-round rookie WR Drake London was the star of the show in the receiving corps. I’m not sure if he heard fans complaining about his relatively quiet opening day, but he bounced back on Day 2. London was targeted frequently in 11-on-11, where he played entirely with the starting “pod” of 1st/2nd string players.

London was catching passes from both Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder throughout practice, including a beautiful deep pass that may have gone for a TD when working against CB Darren Hall. He also had a big play in a competitive one-on-one session that had the whole team cheering and caught Grady Jarrett’s attention.

London clearly has excellent hands and strong instincts for finding the soft spot in zone coverage. He’s adept in contested-catch situations and didn’t shy away from trying to make plays with DBs right on his hip. I can confirm he is a big dude, but also runs pretty crisp routes for his size.

Damien Williams leads the rushing attack

In a bit of surprising turn, it was actually veteran running back Damien Williams who stole the show on the ground today. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that there is very limited contact and no tackling. However, the coaches are pretty quick to blow the play dead if the defense gets a hand on a player. Williams broke free on several big runs, notably off the left side of the offensive line.

He was also a consistent factor in the passing game, serving as a relief valve on a few plays where the defense had excellent coverage downfield. We know Williams is a versatile, well-rounded back with a ton of experience. I was encouraged by his performance today. He looked explosive and decisive with the ball in his hands. Don’t make any bold claims about the RB room until after the pads come on, but so far, Williams has really stood out.

Starting front seven features a big rotation

After failing to get a good look at the defensive personnel on Day 1, I made a point of studying the groupings on Day 2. I’m happy to report that I got a clear picture of the starting defensive line and linebackers in both base package and passing down looks.

In the opening 3-4 look, the Falcons lined up with the following players:

EDGE Lorenzo Carter
DT Ta’Quon Graham
NT Anthony Rush
DT Grady Jarrett
EDGE Arnold Ebiketie
LB Rashaan Evans
LB Mykal Walker

I’d say that these were the players that got the lion’s share of snaps throughout practice. However, there are a few notes:

  • EDGE Lorenzo Carter, DT Grady Jarrett, and LB Rashaan Evans were the players who got the most reps at their respective positions, regardless of the personnel package
  • LB Nick Kwiatkoski also got plenty of work in both nickel and base defense, subbing in for Mykal Walker
  • On the interior, both Vincent Taylor and Marlon Davidson were rotated in during pass rushing looks
  • Edge rushers Adetokunbo Ogundeji and DeAngelo Malone were both working with the starters. Ogundeji was primarily rotated in during base package looks, while Malone found himself on the field for pass rushing and, interestingly, coverage duties

I’ll continue to monitor this group closely throughout training camp, but it’s encouraging to see both rookie edge rushers mixing in with the starters right from the start. On DeAngelo Malone and thoughts that he might be undersized, he certainly doesn’t look it. While he’s listed at 240 on the team site, he looks almost exactly the same size as Arnold Ebiketie—who is listed at 256. Take away from that whatever you like: both guys look jacked to open camp.

Shakeups on the offensive line

Yesterday, we were told by coach Arthur Smith that there were open competitions at three of the five spots on the offensive line: left guard, center, and right tackle. We’ve now seen the contenders at two of those positions on Day 2—and I’d expect we’ll see the third sooner than later.

After starting incumbent Jalen Mayfield at LG and Drew Dalman at center on Day 1, we saw the second-string players at those spots play extensively with the first-string today. At left guard, it was veteran Elijah Wilkinson; at center, it was incumbent Matt Hennessy. The starter at right tackle remained Kaleb McGary, as Germain Ifedi continued working with the second team.

To be honest, I didn’t notice much of a difference. This is not a full-contact situation, so it’s very difficult to glean anything from the trenches. I did notice that most of Damien Williams’ impressive runs came off the left side of the line. It could’ve been Jake Matthews being awesome, but I’m willing to give Elijah Wilkinson some credit as well.

Also, former UDFA guard Ryan Neuzil—who was Atlanta’s best lineman in the preseason and spent 2021 on the practice squad—worked exclusively with the centers today. He was snapping balls with Dalman and Hennessy to open practice, and played center during the 11-on-11 full-team session late in practice. Arthur Smith confirmed that the move is more than just cross-training.

Other notes from Day 2

  • After the conclusion of Day 1, Falcons QB coach Charles London essentially named QB Marcus Mariota the starter. Arthur Smith called it a “vet move” by The Athletic’s Josh Kendall to get the scoop. That’s not surprising, as Mariota has looked sharp and in-command during both practices. Rookie Desmond Ridder has also been good—just not quite as crisp as Mariota. Both QBs run the same plays and take part in the same drills—Ridder isn’t relegated to just playing with the backups.
  • We got our first look at the returner battle, and it seems to be primarily down to RB Avery Williams and WR Damiere Byrd. Those two got the lion’s share of reps. Also involved were WR Olamide Zaccheaus, WR Cameron Batson, and WR Bryan Edwards.
  • For those interested, the Falcons starting safety duo was once again Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins. That duo played together the entire practice, while veterans Erik Harris and Dean Marlowe formed the second-team duo.
  • At wide receiver, there seems to be a clear tier of guys working with the starters versus the guys working with the reserves. Outside of London, the top targets were Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryan Edwards, Damiere Byrd, Auden Tate, and KhaDarel Hodge. Zaccheaus, in particular, seems to be at the top of the depth chart. During drills, he’s in the first group alongside Kyle Pitts.
  • CB Mike Ford was getting some looks with the starters, playing primarily in the slot. He rotated with Isaiah Oliver—who doesn’t quite look full speed yet, but is practicing—and Darren Hall, who also played some on the outside.
  • At tight end, Parker Hesse seems pretty far ahead of rookie John FitzPatrick in the TE3 battle. Hesse was involved a lot, both as a blocker and receiver. Also, QB/TE Feleipe Franks had one of the best plays of the day: a big gain down the left sideline delivered by Desmond Ridder.
  • In terms of the roster, the Falcons waived CFL standout and converted receiver TE Brayden Lenius today to make room for S Henry Black. Lenius had shown off some good hands in drills, but had been overshadowed by two strong days from Franks. The signing of Black makes sense given the lack of depth at safety—Atlanta had just five players on the roster at the position heading into camp.

That’s all for today’s training camp notes. I’ll be back at Flowery Branch bright and early on Friday. Be sure to say “hi” if you’re there tomorrow!