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Falcons training camp recap: Day 9

A great day from the offense and from quarterback Marcus Mariota in what was another lively Saturday practice.

NFL: AUG 06 Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As you can see from the author byline in this article, I am not Kevin Knight. Following a week of tremendous coverage, Kevin is now back home and getting some well deserved rest. The baton was thus been passed to me for our Day 9 Falcons training camp coverage.

Let me take you through everything I saw at Flowery Branch on Saturday.

This day belonged to the offense

The offense looked to have implemented some new wrinkles on Saturday, as we were treated to a few more designed quarterback runs than we’ve seen before (and a number of undesigned ones, as well). That seemed to just be the start of the issues for the defense, as Marcus Mariota for the most part had his way against the first team in 11-on-11 drills.

Speaking of which, this quarterback competition which was hyped leading up to the preseason has been anything but. The Falcons coaching staff announced Mariota as the starter from the get go, and it’s been Mariota getting all of the first team reps over rookie Desmond Ridder. Quite frankly, Mariota has looked like the better quarterback, both in camp overall and especially today. Ridder had his moments, but he looked flustered by the pressure when it got to him and it resulted in some poor passes early in the day in 7-on-7 drills. He bounced back in some later 11-on-11 work against the second team, but Mariota was consistently the better passer.

Despite the good work put in on offense, the quarterbacks didn’t dare challenge A.J. Terrell very much, even when he had assigned coverage on Drake London (and there seemed to be a little bit of an emphasis on that matchup taking place). London did all of his work when not covered by Terrell, having a few nice catches on the day.

Kyle Pitts is the best player on the field

We didn’t see Mariota force feed Kyle Pitts, but when he did look his way, the second-year tight end out of Florida just displayed his ability. It’s almost as if Pitts heard all of the discussion about how Richie Grant has had some success covering him during camp, and said “watch this.”

Pitts had two touchdown scores, and both with Grant in coverage. The first was a beautiful looping ball from Mariota where Grant was actually in really good position but couldn’t do anything against the perfect pass and over-the-shoulder catch.

The second score wasn’t as spectacular but was more consequential. It was a goal-to-go drill where the defense strung some good plays together to force a 4th-and-goal situation from inside the five-yard-line. Pitts got away from Grant in coverage and Mariota found him in the back of the end zone for a score which gave the offense the “win” in that drill.

This Feleipe Franks thing is for real

Maybe the biggest show stopper in camp on Saturday was Feleipe Franks. It’s clear that he’s put in a lot of work this summer in his transition to the tight end position, and it’s been paying off during camp. His first highlight reel play of the day came on a touchdown catch in a 7-on-7 drill where he completely trucked Teez Tabor on his way into the end zone.

Franks later had maybe the most beautiful catch of the day in an 11-on-11 play where it looked like he initially lost his footing on an out route but then still hauled in a diving catch on a pass from Ridder. Franks got some limited action as a quarterback as well, getting a big gain on a deep pass to Tyshaun James and then picking up plenty of positive yards on a scramble a minute later. It was overall nothing but positive plays for the former Gator.

Arthur Smith tries not to show a lot of emotion in his press conferences, but he let a smile slip after I asked him about the job Franks has been doing as a tight end in camp this year. He gave Franks a lot of credit for being willing to make the positional transition and said that it’s really fun to coach him. Will McFadden will have a longer writeup on Franks soon, so look for that.

All of the healthy starters will play in preseason

The main takeaway from Arthur Smith’s postgame press conference is his announcement and confirmation that everyone will play in Friday’s preseason game against the Lions, as long as they are healthy.

Smith didn’t mince words, and it doesn’t seem like he’s playing mind games. He actually went on to promise that every healthy player will get run in the preseason.

Of course, this comes on the heels of last year’s preseason where all of the starters were completely rested, save for one series in the final game. The team ended up looking very sloppy in their Week 1 defeat against the Eagles. To his credit, Smith said earlier this offseason that his approach to the preseason will change this year. On Saturday he all but confirmed that it would.

Other Notes from Day 9

  • Despite the strong day overall from Mariota, he wasn’t without his mistakes. The most costly one happened in a 7-on-7 drill where he overthrew Geronimo Allison and saw the ball land into the quick hands of Jaylinn Hawkins, who continues to display his ball hawking ability.
  • Kevin sang Avery Williams’ praises as a pass catcher in the Day 7 recap, but today he had the biggest play by any of the RBs on a carry, taking it to the house after the offensive line did a great job of opening up a big hole for him on the right side. Williams got a good bit of first team work. I will also note also that Mariota nearly took a scramble all the way for a touchdown on the play immediately following Williams’ score.
  • Bryan Edwards was out there again but he still hasn’t shed the yellow “no contact” jersey. Unfortunately, defensive lineman Bryce Rodgers went down with a knee injury and had to be helped off the field by trainers in an 11-on-11 play.
  • Anthony Rush looks like the starting defensive tackle next to Grady Jarrett. He was exclusively out there with the first team defense. Mykal Walker was also getting a lot of run at linebacker with the first team.
  • For those thinking that there was finally some clarity at the center position after Drew Dalman ran with the first team offensive line in consecutive days, think again. Matt Hennessy was out there with the first team once again, joined by Jake Matthews, Elijah Wilkinson, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Dalman had a negative play in 11-on-11s where he snapped the ball poorly and it ended up on the ground. I couldn’t tell if that was his error or Ridder’s.
  • Speaking of the offensive line, something interesting I noted from Coach Smith’s press conference is that it was never the team’s plan to start Jalen Mayfield last year, at least at the beginning of the season. Smith said that Josh Andrews was the team’s starting left guard until he broke his hand.
  • The crowd was fantastic. I think there were more people at today’s practice than there were on any other day. Fans brought a lot of energy and you can tell the excitement for this team is growing.

That’s it for today’s Training Camp notes. It’s another off day tomorrow before the team has their annual practice at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

With the first preseason game on Friday, this marks the end of our in-person coverage for this year’s Training Camp. Kevin Knight did a fantastic job spearheading The Falcoholic’s coverage this year, and our own Will McFadden was on the scene along with myself for a few days this year as well. We will continue our coverage of this team from afar as we now move into the preseason.