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Falcons training camp 2023: Day 2 recap and notes

On another blistering hot morning at Flowery Branch, it was the Falcons defense that continued to have the upper hand. We also saw some real standouts among the rookies and young players during Day 2 of Atlanta’s training camp.

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

Welcome back to Day 2 of our Atlanta Falcons training camp coverage! Adnan Ikic and Kevin Knight were once again on site to watch every moment of today’s practice. For even more practice clips and notes, you can check out our Twitter feeds (Kevin, Adnan). We brave the blistering heat so you don’t have to!

Thursday was the first day open to the fans, and there was a pretty good turnout for a weekday. The excitement was palpable as many got their first glimpse of Bijan Robinson and the other rookies.

The heat continued to rage and there remained not a single cloud in sight. In positive news, there was the hint of a breeze to help us tolerate the Georgia sun today.

Below are some of our notes and observations from Day 2. If you’d like more takes, you can join us on our Falcoholic Live recap starting at 6 PM ET.

Rookies make some noise

It’s still very early in camp, but the team is already seeing some flashes from their 2023 draft class.

Let’s start with what was maybe the play of the day. On the first rep of 1-on-1 drills, WR Drake London lined up against CB Clark Phillips III for a Pac-12 rematch. Phillips, Atlanta’s fourth round pick this year, got the better of London by not only breaking up the pass but also completing the interception following a tip drill to himself.

The ball was a bit underthrown—we didn’t get a good look at who the QB was, however—but that doesn’t take away from an outstanding play on the ball and acrobatic interception from Phillips.

That wasn’t the only headline play, as RB Bijan Robinson continued to flash the skills that convinced the Falcons to make him the highest drafted running back in the past five years. He had a great catch and cut which drew some oohs and ahs from the fans in attendance on the first play of 7-on-7 drills. Even without pads on, Bijan seems to make everyone else look slow in comparison.

That’s not to say that Robinson had a perfect day. He did drop a pass from QB Taylor Heinicke which hit him in the chest during the red zone portion of scrimmage, and LB Troy Andersen got the better of him in one on ones.

Third round pick DE Zach Harrison had a standout day as well. He came away with what would have been sacks against both Heinicke and Desmond Ridder on nearly consecutive plays during the red zone portion at the end of practice. He was the among the most impressive defensive linemen.

After practice, when asked if any of the rookies have stood out to him so far, coach Arthur Smith singled out Phillips, Robinson and Harrison as those who have impressed him the most through two days of camp.

A better day for Desmond Ridder, but with continued struggles throwing deep

Following a mediocre Day 1 of camp, Ridder bounced back a little bit by completing a few more passes in scrimmage on Day 2 (ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, who has been keeping track of QB completions, had him at 7-11 on the day).

Ridder looked sharp in the short to intermediate routes (though he had a short pass which sailed a bit high that Penny Hart made a fantastic play on), but he continued to struggle on the deep passes that do get dialed up. Today, he missed Mack Hollins on a deep seam route that looked open and could have gone for a touchdown had it been thrown better. Overall, Ridder has to clean up the deep accuracy, but he needs more chances to do so as well. There simply haven’t been many deep attempts thus far.

It was, however, a day of no interceptions thrown for the former Cincinnati Bearcat. Which is certainly an improvement on the two pick day we saw on Wednesday. Ridder has typically done a good job protecting the football, and Arthur Smith even mentioned that he’d like to see Ridder be more aggressive when taking shots downfield.

Jaylinn Hawkins and the secondary continue to stand out

Despite losing his starting safety job to incoming free agent Jessie Bates III, Jaylinn Hawkins has clearly come into training camp motivated. He’s been making plays from the get go.

He had a second interception in as many days — this one off of backup QB Taylor Heinicke on what looked to be a dangerous pass over the middle. There seems to be no question that Hawkins will be the team’s primary backup safety behind Bates and Richie Grant come Week 1, and could even be in the mix in three safety sets.

Thus far, the interception counter in scrimmages stands as follows two days in:

Jaylinn Hawkins — 2

Micah Abernathy — 1

CB Jeff Okudah had a tough rep against WR Mack Hollins, getting beat on a slick double move by the big receiver. But he bounced back in a big way, breaking up an actually well-thrown deep pass to Drake London in the endzone.

But that’s not all. Richie Grant also made an impressive play in 1-on-1s, breaking up a pass intended for veteran TE MyCole Pruitt.

Grant also had a sack on a blitz, and will clearly be heavily involved in the defensive gameplan.

Tight ends are targeted frequently

While the QBs didn’t have many deep completions, Ridder and Heinicke found a lot of success working the middle of the field with tight ends Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt. Both came away with multiple big gains on short to intermediate routes. This part of the passing game has been consistently sharp through the first two practices.

The throw of the day came from Heinicke to Smith on the left side of the field. The placement was perfectly over the hand of a leaping Mykal Walker in coverage, and gave Smith the opportunity to turn up field for a big gain.

We also saw an impressive 1-on-1 rep from Jonnu Smith working against safety Jessie Bates III.

Bates attempted to slow down Smith at the line of scrimmage, but Smith escaped and made a great play on the ball.

MyCole Pruitt was heavily involved in the passing game, receiving targets from both QBs. He was targeted on the second play of red zone drills by Ridder, who maneuvered around some pressure in the pocket to get the ball to Pruitt for a first down.

We still haven’t seen Kyle Pitts in any 11-on-11s, and he was more limited today than yesterday overall, but that was not a surprise after Arthur Smith made it clear that the team would limit some of his reps coming off of knee surgery.

Other Notes:

  • We were informed today that there will be no filming allowed during 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 sessions this year. That’s a bummer, but somewhat understandable: the team is trying to be more protective of their plays going into this season. Can’t say we blame them, even if we’re upset we can’t share the plays with you. We’ll still report all the details we can remember, and film every moment that we can.
  • When asked about the status of defensive lineman Calais Campbell and Eddie Goldman, Arthur Smith said it would be a bit of time before we see either of them. He gave a 10-day timeframe that will be needed before he has any update on Campbell and said that Goldman is currently dealing with some personal matters. He also mentioned punter Bradley Pinion was away from the team today due to a personal matter.
  • In Campbell’s absence, we once again saw Joe Gaziano line up with the first team as the left defensive end on run drills. That will likely be Calais’ spot, but Gaziano definitely looks like the direct backup at the moment and he should be on your current 53-man roster projections in our opinion. We also saw Timmy Horne run with the ones a little bit along the interior.
  • We saw a lot of Bud Dupree in the SAM linebacker role and with his hand in the dirt with the first team. He’s one of the many pass rushers the team brought in this offseason and while we haven’t said his name too much yet, he’s getting a lot of snaps early.
  • Veterans DT David Onyemata and EDGE Lorenzo Carter both had impressive TFLs and looked explosive.
  • We’d like to compliment DT Albert Huggins as well. The Clemson alum had a great play which drew praise from the coaches in 11-on-11s, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage thrown by Heinicke.
  • Interestingly, both Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone were working with the linebacker group in early drills today. It seems like there may be some cross-training going on there.
  • Your daily punt return battle update: the current group consists of CB Mike Hughes, CB Dee Alford, WR Penny Hart, WR Xavier Malone, WR Scotty Miller, and RB Bijan Robinson

That’s it from us for today. We’ll be back at Flowery Branch bright and early Friday morning for Day 3!

What are your thoughts on the first two days of training camp?