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Falcons training camp recap: Day 4

The fourth day of Falcons training camp was the most intense and spectacular thus far, which was fitting for the large contingent of fans that braved the possibility of inclement weather. Atlanta’s offense shined after two strong days by the defense.

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

The fourth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp started off a little cautiously, with eyes on the sky for the possibility of thunderstorms. Even so, fans were unperturbed and showed up in droves—particularly once the sun came out partway through practice.

Saturday featured a quick address at the podium from Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot to the fans, who they both thanked profusely for coming out to support the team. Perhaps owing to the presence of so many excited fans, today’s practice was the most intense and spectacular one yet. Let’s get to it.

Offense takes over on Day 4

After two strong days from the defense, the offense fought back on Saturday. Early on, it looked as if the defensive dominance would continue: Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder combined for an 0-4 start in the first 11-on-11 period, and the defense stuffed up the run well. After that though, it was mostly the offense’s show—with a few nice defensive plays sprinkled in. Dean Pees did note after practice that the defense installed a whole new set of coverages today, and it led to some mistakes on the back end. So that could have played a part, too.

For fans looking for fireworks, they got them today. Mariota was sharp (more on that below) and he and Ridder combined for a very productive day in the red zone. It felt like almost every wide receiver found their way into the endzone at some point during practice, whether that was in team work or 1-on-1s. You could tell that it started to get to the defense late in practice, as the intensity was high and the players were playing at practically full game speed without contact. Speaking of that intensity...

The competition was fierce and tempers flared

The coaches gradually ramped up the speed and intensity of practice throughout the day, culminating in a full “game simulation” set of 11-on-11 red zone drills. Atlanta’s offense and defense went back and forth throughout the session. The defense had some nice plays, including a sack from veteran Quinton Bell and a throwaway forced by pressure from rookie Arnold Ebiketie.

On offense, both Mariota and Ridder repeatedly found the endzone in the passing game. Mariota added a first-down scramble to keep a drive alive, and would later score on a rushing touchdown. The rushing attack was about 50-50 on the day, with a mix of good plays from the offense and defense.

Late in the session, tempers began to flare. It began with a fight between DT Jalen Dalton and OT Germain Ifedi, where Dalton ran in from across the field to get at Ifedi. UDFA DT Derrick Tangelo had a TFL on the final play of practice, which ended up sparking another scuffle. Arthur Smith called it after that, as practice had already gone over the scheduled end time.

In some ways, the intensity is nice to see. Our very own Will McFadden covered this aspect of practice, and some of the quotes from the coaching staff, in a separate article today. This quote, in particular, stood out to me:

Darren Hall bounces back, Richie Grant continues to impress,

After a couple of difficult days in a row where he was so close to making some big plays, second-year cornerback Darren Hall finally saw those plays go in his favor. He had a number of impressive PBUs today, providing tight coverage in both team sessions and 1-on-1 drills. I was really glad to see things turn around for him, and he looked sharp playing mostly on the outside today.

Here’s a rep with smothering coverage on WR Frank Darby.

There were a lot of standout players in the secondary—including the usual suspects like A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward—but Day 4 marked another practice where Richie Grant had a terrific day. He’s been excellent in coverage and always seems to be one of the first guys there as a tackler and in run support, though it’s tough to evaluate those aspects fully without pads on.

In fact, both Grant and fellow starter Jaylinn Hawkins have looked good in their four days as the top duo. The future is looking bright for Atlanta’s new-look secondary.

Kyle Pitts, Drake London dominate

It was once again the Kyle Pitts and Drake London show, with both players getting into the endzone on multiple occasions. Pitts just looks unstoppable at times, and showed off his ridiculous catch radius on this low pass from Mariota.

Pitts is also showing dominant flashes in 1-on-1s, like on this rep where he fights through a pretty egregious hold from DB Teez Tabor. His movement skills and body control are ridiculous for a player of his size.

Not be be outdone, rookie Drake London caught the most touchdowns of any player today. He looked dominant in 1-on-1s, where he mossed cornerback Dee Alford for a deep touchdown.

He was very effective in the red zone period as well, drawing a ton of targets from both Mariota and Ridder. London was able to get a step on cornerback Darren Hall and score right on the goal-line.

So far, Pitts and London look like a dynamic duo for the Falcons. Let’s hope this continues once we get to full-contact practice on Monday.

Marcus Mariota has his best day yet

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mariota is defying all expectations thus far. He’s been sharp, accurate, and in command of the offense. I’m struggling to come up with different ways to say it, because it’s been a consistent theme with him. You’ve already seen some of his impressive throws above, but today showcased how dangerous Mariota can be as a runner in the red zone.

On multiple occasions, the coverage was good and the pressure was coming—but Mariota was able to escape and turn it in to a positive play. Take this one, for example, as Mariota is able to use his legs to pick up a crucial third down play to keep the offense alive in the 7-on-7 session. He’d throw a touchdown pass to Auden Tate on the very next play.

Later, in 11-on-11—which I cannot film, sadly—Mariota had a similar play. The Falcons offense was at about the two-yard line, and a previous rushing play was stuffed for minimal gain. Mariota surveyed the field briefly before beating the edge defender for the touchdown. The fans erupted in cheers, and Mariota ran to the edge of the field and tossed the ball into the crowd.

Mariota continues to look better than any of us thought he would be. The big question now is whether or not it will translate to the preseason, and then the regular season after that. Everything looks positive now, and I hope the momentum continues.

Other notes from Day 4

  • An update on the starting offensive line: there was once again some shuffling with the first team. The change came at center, where it went back to Matt Hennessy. That marks an even split between Hennessy and Drew Dalman, who was with the starters on Days 1 & 3. After Jalen Mayfield got the start on Day 1, it’s been veteran Elijah Wilkinson every day since. Right tackle has remained Kaleb McGary all four days.
  • With all the praise I’m heaping on Mariota, don’t forget about Desmond Ridder. Ridder is a step below Mariota right now—he’s not quite as accurate and you can tell he’s just a tick slower to process things. But that’s totally understandable for a rookie in his fourth day of training camp. Ridder is progressing nicely, but fans need to be patient.
  • There’s a clear top three emerging in the receiving corps: Drake London, Bryan Edwards, and Olamide Zaccheaus. All three have been heavily and exclusively involved with the starters. Edwards left practice during the final team session with what appeared to be a hand/arm or shoulder injury. That will be worth monitoring going forward.
  • Damiere Byrd, KhaDarel Hodge, Auden Tate, and Geronimo Allison appear to be the four players in competition for the remaining 2-3 roster spots at WR. This will be a fierce battle to monitor all through the preseason.
  • In terms of other receivers competing for spots, I’d say UDFA Stanley Berryhill Jr. has been the most consistently impressive so far, with fellow UDFA/lacrosse star Jared Bernhardt right behind him. The Falcons kept three receivers on the practice squad for much of the 2021 season, and I’d say those two are early favorites for a couple of those spots.
  • This was the best day on the ground so far for the offense, with Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, and Tyler Allgeier all having success. Even so, I’d call the “successful” split around 50/50 with the defense, which was once again pretty stout against the run overall.

That’s all for today’s training camp notes. Sunday is a rest day, which A.J. Terrell said he is going to use to get his mind and body right. I’m going to do something similar. Adnan and I will see you again, bright and early, on Monday at Flowery Branch for Day 5!

As a quick addendum, I want to thank everyone for the affirming comments. It really means a lot. Thank you for your support of myself, and the site as a whole. Also, I really enjoyed meeting all those who came out to camp and said hello!