They call it Falcons First Look, and for fans who went to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that’s pretty much exactly what it was. It was an opportunity to see (most) of the roster the Falcons have been painstakingly building with all their cap space and resources this offseason.
I’ll be honest: I had nearly forgotten the Falcons open up one OTA practice now for the public, given that they didn’t for so many years. It’s a great thing for fans, especially with a new-look team many fans expect to be a 2023 contender in the NFC, and as you’d expect those who attended were pretty excited about it.
If you were there, you had a good time. If you weren’t, here are what observers noticed and what might be worth paying attention to going forward.
Jalen Mayfield back at tackle...for the moment
When the Falcons drafted Matthew Bergeron to play left guard, as we all thought they had, it left lingering questions about where Matt Hennessy, Jalen Mayfield, and others would line up. Hennessy is still getting plenty of work at left guard and figures to compete head-to-head with Bergeron, but I think many of us wondered if Mayfield might get some work at his college right tackle position with no path to a starting job available.
That’s what’s happening, as observers noted that Mayfield was manning the position yesterday. This doesn’t mean a full-time shift to tackle, but with the swing tackle job seemingly up for grabs with Germain Ifedi’s release and Mayfield’s experience at guard, handling multiple positions capably will increase his chances of making this roster. The team has never indicated that they’re down on Mayfield even after a rough rookie season and a 2022 that was wiped out entirely by injury, so if he looks good at tackle, I wouldn’t bet against him making a real push this summer, even if not everyone’s going to be exactly thrilled by that idea.
Rookie Jovaughn Gwyn is also working at center, where he’ll try to force his way onto the roster as an interior reserve.
Young defensive backs impressing Ryan Nielsen
A vote of confidence now isn’t a vote of confidence in September, but Jeff Okudah and Dee Alford have to be feeling good about what their new defensive coordinator is saying about them.
Okudah didn’t live up to his promise and considerable hype in Detroit, but Nielsen seems optimistic he can do so in Atlanta. The early returns in practice have, apparently, been promising.
Atlanta Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen: "I think a change of scenery sometimes is good for players and I think it's been good for Jeff (Okudah). "— Josh Kendall (@JoshTheAthletic) June 2, 2023
Ditto for Dee Alford, who is getting work with the returners, plenty of work with the first team in the early going with Mike Hughes not present, and per ESPN’s Mike Rothstein drew praise from Nielsen for his ability to battle back from mistakes. Rothstein noted that Nielsen mentioned Alford without his name being brought up, which has to be a good sign for a young defensive back who impressed me a lot in his first season in the NFL.
Some notes and thoughts from the Falcons’ open OTA practice Friday: pic.twitter.com/S4LkiqnVXQ— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) June 2, 2023
Several key veterans missing...but don’t sweat it
This is just par for the course this time of year. Jessie Bates recently welcomed his new daughter into the world, and he and veterans like Calais Campbell, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Mike Hughes are not at these (it should be stressed) optional sessions. They’ll be there for mandatory minicamp, training camp, and beyond.
Their absences also provide opportunities, whether it’s for Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins to get time together, Dee Alford to step in at the nickel and continue to push for a spot, and so on. You only need to worry if we find out absences are injury-related or unexpected. Speaking of which, unfortunately....
Avery Williams left practice with injury
Tori McElhaney revealed in her writeup (linked here and above) that Williams exited practice after an apparent non-contact injury and didn’t return. This being OTAs, we’re not necessarily bound to get a quick update, though we’d obviously like one.
Williams, who has been getting work with the wide receivers this spring and adds that to his returner and running back duties, is a versatile piece of the puzzle on offense and a big-time player on special teams. We just have to hope this is a minor ailment, because anything that drags well into the summer or beyond would be bad news for a Falcons team that prizes what Williams brings to the table.
For those who attended, what did you see that’s worth singling out?