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Falcons training camp recap: Day 3

The third day of Falcons training camp featured the first practice open to fans, and it did not disappoint. Atlanta ran a lot of 1-on-1 and team drills, which gave us an extended look at both sides of the ball.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The third day of Atlanta Falcons training camp was the first one open to the public, and the team pulled out all the stops to give fans an enjoyable viewing experience. Today’s practice featured our first extended one-on-one session along with a copious amount of team work, including 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. I’m also happy to report that, after two years of COVID protocols, players were once again signing autographs on the sideline after practice.

Let’s dive right in.

Defense has the advantage again on Day 3

After a strong Day 2, the defense followed it up with another very good performance on Day 3. The final period of practice was an 11-on-11 session with a mix of starters and reserves, and the defense was the clear winner. They held rookie QB Desmond Ridder to a three-and-out thanks to a sack by UDFA NT Timmy Horne and some terrific coverage. There was also some quality pressure applied by rookie EDGE DeAngelo Malone and UDFA DT Bryce Rogers.

The coverage continued to be the strong suit of the defense all day. Safety Richie Grant continued to stand out after a quiet first day. He had a terrific pass deflection against TE Kyle Pitts in the endzone that had the crowd cheering.

CB Isaiah Oliver was getting plenty of run with the starters, and had a PBU against WR Olamide Zaccheaus to prevent a catch on the sideline. Not to be outdone, fellow slot CB Mike Ford also had a PBU against Zaccheaus on what looked like a slighty-underthrown deep ball.

The run defense was also excellent today, bottling up pretty much everyone for the majority of practice. Outside of a few nice runs by Cordarrelle Patterson and rookie Tyler Allgeier, the defense shut down the ground attack. It looked like a group effort, with the defensive line stringing plays out for the linebackers to shut down.

There’s another defensive player who stood out in a big way, and he deserves his own section.

Troy Andersen is making plays

Expectations for rookie linebacker Troy Andersen are all over the place. The second-round pick not only played his college football at FCS Montana State, he also played three different positions across his four seasons. In reality, he only played two full seasons at linebacker, with the rest of his time split at running back and quarterback. He’s also an incredibly special athlete and enters the NFL with arguably the highest athletic ceiling of any player in the class.

I think some growing pains are to be expected, particularly with regards to his tackling and ability to play the run. But in coverage and in a limited-contact practice? There was always a chance we could see Andersen really look special. It happened on Friday.

Andersen’s plays all happened in 11-on-11, so there won’t be any clips. But believe me when I say there were impressive. First, he chased down quarterback Marcus Mariota, who broke free for what looked like a long rushing TD after he escaped the pocket. Andersen came flying in from the other side of the formation and was able to limit the damage to approximately a 30-40 yard gain.

He also had a few standout plays in coverage, including a very impressive one against rookie Tyler Allgeier. Allgeier got loose for downfield and Ridder delivered a very good pass, but Andersen closed instantly and absolutely smothered the play. With Andersen’s size and speed, Allgeier had no chance at the ball. Andersen knocked it harmlessly away, and he made it look easy.

That’s the type of coverage player he can be. Andersen can smother running backs in coverage with his size, and is faster and more agile than 95% of NFL tight ends. And in terms of his range, he’s almost like a safety in his ability to prevent big gains and long TDs. We’ll see how quickly he can acclimate to the run game and the finer points of the linebacker position, but no matter what, he’ll be fun to watch.

Marcus Mariota continues to impress

While the defense was the overall winner today, the offense still had their fair share of good plays. Marcus Mariota continued to defy expectations by being sharp, smart with the football, and clearly in-command of the offense. He also used his ability as a rusher more today, tucking and running when he saw the defense in man coverage or if he saw a linebacker get out of position.

This pass to wide receiver Bryan Edwards was maybe the best of the day. Edwards was facing tight coverage from cornerback Darren Hall, but Mariota put the ball just out of reach of Hall where only Edwards had a chance at it. Edwards made a terrific adjustment and catch.

Mariota has really impressed me. It is not easy to come in as a new starter—even in a familiar scheme—and take full command so early in camp. Look around the league and you’ll see a lot of talk about QBs throwing picks and making mistakes. I won’t claim that the Falcons have been overly aggressive pushing the ball downfield, but Mariota—and Desmond Ridder, too—have protected the ball well and generally run the offense effectively. Here’s another good play from Mariota, who delivers a great pass to TE/QB Feleipe Franks that allows him to get some additional yards after the catch.

On the topic of Ridder, he’s honestly been solid-to-good. He’s not as sharp or comfortable in the offense as Mariota, but he hasn’t been making any egregious mistakes. Which is very impressive for a rookie entering a brand new offensive scheme. You can tell he put the work in this offseason to get up to speed.

Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that, when going through my clips, I generally can’t tell who the pass is coming from without checking the jersey. More of the best plays are coming from Mariota, but there’s not a big drop off when Ridder takes the field. That’s a good situation, and probably why the Falcons haven’t felt the need to bring in another veteran arm.

A new offensive line combo: the best yet?

Another day, another combination on the starting offensive line. Here were the starting five on Day 3:

LT Jake Matthews
LG Elijah Wilkinson
C Drew Dalman
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary

Only one spot changed hands from Day 2, and that was at center—where Drew Dalman once again took over. Left guard remained in the hands of veteran Elijah Wilkinson, who appears to be getting a legitimate chance to challenge incumbent Jalen Mayfield. The right tackle battle has been a lot less exciting, as veteran Germain Ifedi still hasn’t gotten an opportunity. Kaleb McGary has manned the position through all three days of camp.

Obviously, there’s still a lot of camp remaining and this situation is fluid. I will say, based on the limited evaluation I can do of the trenches without full contact, the starting group seemed more effective today. Whether that has to do more with the players settling in more, or this particular combination of players, I can’t really say. But it was the most encouraging performance thus far, particularly in pass protection.

Running backs involved extensively in the passing game

I do wonder if this has more to do with a combination of factors—it’s early in camp and the quarterbacks are more likely to take the check-down, and there’s only so much evaluation you can do of the rushing attack without full contact—but the running backs have been involved in the passing extensively thus far. Overall, I’d say the RBs have more receptions than rushing attempts.

Is that meaningful? I don’t know. But the good news is that every back has had a chance to show off their receiving skills. Obviously, Cordarrelle Patterson has been awesome as a receiver, but some other players are beginning to emerge as factors. Damien Williams has been excellent as a receiver, as well. Here’s one of his reps working against Rashaan Evans.

Avery Williams—who faces an uncertain future at RB but is the clear favorite to win the returner job—has shown off his receiving ability over the first three days. Williams has caught everything thrown his way and, owing to his skills as a returner, looks like a weapon in the open field.

We’ll see how quickly he can take on an actual role as a rusher—and we haven’t seen any work in pass protection, which will be huge for his ability to contribute on third down—but so far, Williams is intriguing. Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley each had some quality catches as well.

Other notes from Day 3

  • WR Geronimo Allison appears to have graduated to the 1st/2nd team group, as he was working with the starters extensively. That’s impressive for a guy who was added as a minicamp tryout.
  • UDFA TE Tucker Fisk got a lot of work as a fullback today, lining up in the backfield. That versatility could be key for Fisk, who’s likely battling versatile fellow TE John Raine for a spot on the practice squad. Also, he is thick.
  • TE/QB Feleipe Franks continues to impress, with multiple plays including the one in the clip above. Considering he seems to have the favor of the coaching staff, he’s looking like a clear roster favorite.
  • WR Drake London and WR Bryan Edwards each had strong practices today. Both were involved in some big, impressive plays.

That’s all for today’s training camp notes. I’ll be back at Flowery Branch bright and early on Saturday. Say “hi” to myself, Adnan Ikic, and Will McFadden if you see us at practice!