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Falcons training camp 2023: Day 1 recap and notes

In the midst of the blazing Georgia heat, Falcons training camp finally arrived. It was a bit of a warmup day for the offense, but we saw some impressive plays from the defense and rushing attack along with some injury updates.

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

Rejoice, Atlanta Falcons fans! After a long offseason which featured a flurry of splash moves in free agency and the draft, the unofficial start to football season has arrived with the commencement of Atlanta’s 2023 training camp.

Adnan Ikic and Kevin Knight were both on the scene for the first day of camp, and we will continue to bring you complete coverage over the course of the next week. Without a cloud in sight and in true late July Georgia heat, we witnessed the team’s first practice on Wednesday—which was closed to the public. The first open practice will be on Thursday.

Read on for some of our observations from Day 1 of Falcons training camp!

Matt Hennessy gets the first crack at starting left guard in what is a mostly settled offensive line

Left guard is probably the only position on offense which doesn’t have a clear starter to open camp. The team traded up in the second round of the draft for the opportunity to select Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron, and he is the presumed favorite to take control of the position due to his talent and the team’s investment.

In the pre-practice press conference, however, Arthur Smith let us know that it will be Matt Hennessy who will be playing with the starters at that spot to open camp. This figures to be a two-horse race between Hennessy and Bergeron for the starting LG job, and Smith made it clear that it would be an open competition.

That’s comparatively quiet compared to 2022, when the Falcons went into camp with competitions taking place at left guard, center and right tackle spots. Coincidentally, last year’s competition also featured Hennessy, who wound up losing the center battle to Drew Dalman. There’s no such question at center and right tackle this season, with Dalman and Kaleb McGary secure in their roles.

Calais Campbell begins camp on the NFI list, but “no long-term concern”

Smith also made it known that veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who was surprisingly put on the non-football injury list yesterday, will not be out long term and should be back with the team soon.

Kyle Pitts practices without limitations

One of the major storylines coming into camp this year was the health of star tight end Kyle Pitts, who saw his 2022 season cut short due to an MCL injury. Pitts himself announced on his instagram story last week that he would avoid the PUP list, and he seemed to be moving with no limitations today.

Of course, it’s just Day 1 and there were no pads, but it’s still a very good sign that Pitts is already on the field and active. He was wearing a right knee brace as a precaution and wasn’t on the field for 11-on-11, but he was targeted early and often by Desmond Ridder in 7-on-7 drills on some short-to-intermediate throws.

Arthur Smith said that the team would look to ease their tight end back into the swing of things, so there shouldn’t be any panic if he’s more limited in his reps in the coming days and especially when pads come into play.

It’s also notable that both Pitts and Drake London were getting extra reps with Desmond Ridder during special teams drills. It’s great to have Pitts back on the field and the offense is clearly a lot more dangerous with him involved.

On quiet day for the passing game, Desmond Ridder was up-and-down

Obligatory reminder that this was literally the first day of training camp, but quarterback Desmond Ridder did not look perfect today.

He had some nice passes on most of the short-to-intermediate throws (this was the vast majority of what was dialed up) in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, but he also threw two interceptions in the process.

The first pick was a high throw near the line of scrimmage which safety Micah Abernathy snagged out of the air in a very impressive play. ESPN’s Mike Rothstein believes this pass may have been tipped at the line of scrimmage, but it was unclear from our angle. At any rate, this play could’ve easily been a pick-six in a live game setting.

The second interception was even more egregious and happened on the only deep shot of the game that we witnessed. It was a long pass into double coverage which was intended for wide receiver Drake London and completely sailed into the hands of waiting safety Jaylinn Hawkins who made a nice play on the ball.

Ridder was at the podium afterward and he talked about how he wants the offense to be as explosive as possible and that it was “huge” for him to have gotten those four starts in his rookie season before being named a starter going into year two.

Overall though, there simply weren’t many passing attempts in the team sessions. More than half of the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 reps were dedicated to the run game and this seemed to clearly be a “warm-up” day on offense. However, UDFA WR Xavier Malone and WR KhaDarel Hodge were early standouts in the drills. Hodge was working near the top of the rotation behind just Drake London, while Malone showed off his quick feet and good hands. WR Josh Ali was also heavily targeted in the team session.

Early hierarchy emerging in the secondary

The Falcons have brought in a ton of new faces in the secondary to complement a group that was already fairly crowded. There’s little question about where Jessie Bates III and Jeff Okudah will line up, but the rest of the depth chart is fairly murky. We got our first look on Day 1, and it was fairly interesting.

There seemed to be a clear hierarchy between the first/second team group and the third/fourth team group. I’ll list out the players in the first/second team group that we observed:

Cornerbacks: A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Dee Alford, Mike Hughes, Tre Flowers, Cornell Armstrong

Safeties: Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy

That means that Darren Hall and rookies Clark Phillips III and DeMarcco Hellams are currently working with the “depth” group. None of this is surprising, as the team has frequently made rookies work their way up the depth chart over the course of camp. However, in the case of Hall, it could mean a very difficult path to the 53-man roster this year.

You may have guessed it from Ridder’s lackluster day, but the secondary was quietly on fire to open camp. Both picks were good plays (one by Abernathy, one by Hawkins) and there were a number of PBUs. Coverage was tight and there were no easy throws available. We’ll continue to monitor this group over the coming days.

The run game looks lethal early

First things first: it’s pretty hard to fairly evaluate running backs before the pads come on. There is very little real contact allowed, and no tackling at this stage. Even still, top 10 pick Bijan Robinson and Falcons’ all time rookie rushing record holder Tyler Allgeier both looked very good in the moments when they were allowed to flash.

Robinson looks super smooth and natural whenever the ball is in his hands and neither RB dropped any passes that came their way during both the scrimmages as well as the drills.

Allgeier had what would have been a very long gain on a run in 11-on-11s when he was given a very large hole along the right side of the offensive line, with some help from new wide receiver free agent addition Mack Hollins.

Even presumed fourth string UDFA running back Carlos Washington Jr. had a very long run which might have gone for a score in an actual game setting. The run game looks lethal and ready to roll for the Falcons right out of the gate.

Other Notes:

  • DE Joe Gaziano got some run with the first team today. Part of that may be due to Campbell’s absence, but the former Charger seems to have a real shot at the 53-man roster.
  • Speaking of the defensive line, reserve nose tackles Timmy Horne and Carlos Davis were getting extra opportunities with the starting group due to the absence of Eddie Goldman. Davis stood out, as he would’ve easily had a sack in a live situation.
  • CB Dee Alford got the first team reps at the nickel corner position alongside starters A.J. Terrell and Jeff Okudah. He seems to have an early lead against veteran free agent signing Mike Hughes, who did have a nice pass breakup against Drake London in the early portion of 7-on-7s.
  • LB Mykal Walker was mixing in with the first-team as a third linebacker, playing both off-ball and on the line of scrimmage. It seems that he’s high up the depth chart to open camp.
  • We didn’t see a whole lot of note involving the offensive line, but OT Josh Miles might be the early favorite for swing tackle. He was getting all the work at second-team left tackle.
  • RB Cordarrelle Patterson talked about how excited the team is to be back at practice and that they aren’t worried about last year. He made it a point of emphasis to mention that the team is rallying around Desmond Ridder as its leader and QB1.
  • There were a lot of limitations on media recordings on the first day of practice. No filming was allowed during 7-on-7 or 11-on-11. Hopefully those restrictions will be relaxed in the coming days once fans are allowed in and the practice is considered “open”.

We’ll be back at Flowery Branch bright and early on Thursday. If you’re looking for more coverage, you can join us on Falcoholic Live tonight at 8 PM ET for our live reactions to the first day of practice!

What are your thoughts on the first day of training camp?