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Falcons training camp 2023: Day 3 recap and notes

The unrelenting heat continued on Day 3 of Falcons training camp, but that didn’t stop our coverage. We saw Bijan Robinson get revenge on Troy Andersen, more spectacular play by the secondary, and a bounce-back day from Desmond Ridder.

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

Welcome to Day 3 of The Falcoholic’s Atlanta Falcons training camp coverage! Adnan Ikic and Kevin Knight were once again on site to watch every moment of today’s practice alongside fellow contributor Will McFadden. 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!

Today featured a dominant start to practice by the defense, but the offense (and, notably, Desmond Ridder) bounced back late. We had some outstanding plays from a few choice rookies, and another really strong showing by the secondary and run defense as a whole.

Below are some of our notes and observations from Day 3. If you’re in the Atlanta area, consider joining Adnan, Kevin, Jeanna, and Will tonight at SweetWater Brewing Company for our first ever live fan gathering and show! If you can’t make it, you can catch the show below—which kicks off at 6 PM ET!

Bijan Robinson makes the play of training camp

Practice got started with a bang today, as we got a spicy 1-on-1 session which featured a rematch of rookie running back Bijan Robinson facing off against second-year linebacker Troy Andersen. This time, it was Bijan who came out on top.

The throw wasn’t the greatest (we didn’t see who the QB was, the team was switching every rep), but Robinson managed to tip the ball himself and come down with the catch on the edge of the endzone. You can hear Kevin’s excitement in the clip and the crowd responded in a similar fashion.

Robinson was also dominant in the redzone period to end practice, with two potential TD runs on a day when the defense was otherwise smothering against the run. He displayed some incredible vision on one of the runs where he changed direction and had one man to beat in the open field. It likely could have been a house call in a real game. It’s safe to say that Robinson has more than lived up to the hype thus far.

After practice, Coach Arthur Smith made it a point to compliment Robinson regarding his versatility, saying that he can do a bit of everything all over the field.

Matt Hennessy leaves the field early, rookie Matthew Bergeron called up

We got some unfortunate injury news early in practice, as current starting left guard Matt Hennessy went down during walkthroughs near the start of practice. He walked off the field under his own power with a member of the training staff and did not return.

When asked about the injury after practice, head coach Arthur Smith described it as an aggravation of an injury Hennessy sustained near the end of the 2022 season. He’ll undergo an MRI soon and we’ll get an update in the coming days. We’re hoping for the best for Hennessy, who has steadily improved his play at guard over the past year.

In his place, it was rookie second-rounder Matthew Bergeron who got the call-up to the first team. There isn’t full contact, so it’s hard to really gauge the offensive and defensive lines performance. However, Bergeron’s presence certainly didn’t seem to hinder the offense during 11-on-11s late in practice. This is probably earlier than the team was planning to have Bergeron step into the starting lineup, so we’ll see how the rookie handles the early pressure.

Clark Phillips III, Jeff Okudah, and the rest of the secondary shines

Not to be outdone, another rookie continued to stand out on the third day of practice. Cornerback Clark Phillips III—who has been turning heads throughout camp with some impressive reps in 1-on-1s and team drills—had another outstanding rep today working against wide receiver Josh Ali.

Phillips played Ali patiently and perfectly on this rep, showing off his recovery speed and incredible instincts to find the ball in air. That wasn’t all for the rookie, as he had another impressive PBU in 7-on-7 drills on a pass over the middle intended for Penny Hart. That was actually quarterback Logan Woodside’s only incompletion of the day during the scrimmages.

A.J. Terrell in the post-practice press conference called Phillips a “dawg” and complimented him on being a fast learner. He said that Phillips reminded him a lot of what he saw from Dee Alford last year regarding the intensity he displays.

The rest of the secondary followed the same trend, with impressive plays by Jeff Okudah—who notched an interception off a bobbled catch by Scotty Miller in the team session—Jaylinn Hawkins, Richie Grant, and A.J. Terrell. Dee Alford also got in on the action, breaking up a well-thrown deep pass by diving in front of electric tight end Kyle Pitts.

It’s safe to say that the secondary has been doing consistently good work. Jessie Bates III hasn’t necessarily broken up any passes or notched any picks, but his coverage was integral in disrupting a well-thrown endzone shot to Drake London from quarterback Desmond Ridder.

The current running interception tally of Training Camp is as follows — Jaylinn Hawkins (2), Micah Abernathy (1), Jeff Okudah (1). This only looks at work during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s.

Desmond Ridder starts off shaky, but finishes strong in 11-on-11

Speaking of Ridder, let’s start with the bad first: the first 7-on-7 session early in practice was a bit ugly. Ridder missed an open Drake London in the back of the endzone with a ball that was a yard or two overthrown, and then missed Kyle Pitts on a deep crosser. That definitely led to some concern from all of us on the sideline that this would be an off day.

But Ridder bounced back in a big way, particularly in the 11-on-11 redzone session to end practice. This work was, naturally, starting at the 20—so there weren’t any massive deep throws available. Even still, Ridder was sharp and decisive working in the red area. He had a 20-yard TD pass to wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge in the back of the endzone, and another would-be TD broken up by great coverage from Terrell and Bates.

Ridder also showed off his mobility, making a smart decision to take off with the ball for a 10-yard TD run when the defense was playing tight coverage. He continues to be very sharp and decisive with his short-to-intermediate throws. We’re just waiting for the deep ball to arrive. Hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.

There seems to be a consensus forming that Ridder has had a bad training camp thus far. He’s had a bad time throwing deep, but overall, Ridder has been fine working the short and intermediate stuff. We need to see continued improvement there, but today was his best day thus far.

Run defense is smothering for the majority of practice

It’s no small task to bottle up Atlanta’s rushing attack, but the new-look defense has been mostly up to the task through the first three days of training camp. Today, the run defense was smothering outside of two potential TD runs from Bijan Robinson late and a single nice run by Tyler Allgeier.

Otherwise, the running backs were having a very difficult time making it out of the backfield. The first two units have been playing gap sound, fundamental football. Let’s hope they can carry that over into the padded practices and preseason games. Playing stout up front is a core component of Ryan Nielsen’s defensive philosophy of getting opponents into favorable third-and-long passing situations.

UDFA receiver Xavier Malone is turning heads

Gotta make room for Kevin’s son in this writeup. All bits aside, UDFA wide receiver Xavier Malone has been the most consistently impressive of the guys fighting for the final roster spot through the first three days of camp. The short but stout (5’9, 180) receiver piled up 1,382 yards (20.3 average) and 15 TDs in 11 games at D2 Henderson State in 2022, and hasn’t looked fazed by the increased level of competition thus far.

Malone opened up Day 3 with a terrific deep catch working against cornerback Cornell Armstrong, and followed that up with a deep TD catch to end the day’s 11-on-11 redzone work with a win for the offense. This was the first time we saw a receiver get behind the defense and hit that “home run” in a scrimmage outside of redzone work. QB Logan Woodside delivered an excellent pass on the play.

We’d expect to see Malone rise up the depth chart over the coming days if he keeps up this pace, especially if he can follow up his training camp play with some flashes in he preseason. Malone is also a factor in the punt returner battle, so that added versatility can only help his case for the 53-man roster.

Mack Hollins delivers the quote of training camp

WR Mack Hollins was made available to the media in the post-practice interview period and, after coach Arthur Smith talked a little about lifestyle choices regarding his mustache on the opening day of camp, Hollins discussed some of his own lifestyle choices — namely how he doesn’t use utensils and only eats with his hands.

Hollins continued by saying that he never eats soup when asked about it specifically. He also talked about how much he hates wearing shoes and that he feels more one with the earth when barefoot. Hollins has certainly walked the walk regarding that quote — quite literally — as he reported to camp barefoot, on the hot Georgia asphalt with weather in the mid-90s.

  • Arthur Smith provided an update on the status of nose tackle Eddie Goldman today, saying we should know by tomorrow if the veteran will be considering retirement once again due to some personal matters. Goldman reached out to the team with a desire to return and has looked good when he’s been at the facility, but his status seems up-in-the-air at this stage.
  • Second-year edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie notched a nice sack on quarterback Logan Woodside during the redzone session. He’s been having a good camp thus far.
  • Speaking of Woodside, the third-string signal caller has looked very solid as a passer and decision-maker. It seems clear why the team hasn’t felt the need to bring in any additional “camp arms” to push him.
  • Both Timmy Horne and Ta’Quon Graham got some work with the first team on the interior of the defense in 11-on-11 run drills. Bud Dupree was once again lining up as a starter at outside linebacker and we saw LB Mykal Walker mix in with the ones a bit as well.
  • After missing Day 2 with an excuse absence, punter Bradley Pinion returned to the practice field on Friday.

That’s it from us for today. We’ll be back at Flowery Branch bright and early Saturday morning for Day 4!

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