How time flies when you’re having fun. Just like that, we’re already on Day 4 of The Falcoholic’s 2023 Atlanta Falcons training camp coverage—and the first official weekend of camp. As with the first three days, Adnan Ikic and Kevin Knight were on the scene watching and tracking every moment alongside fellow contributor Will McFadden. For more coverage, we direct you to our Twitter (X?) feeds (Kevin, Adnan).
The blazing heat from the first few days finally subsided on what was a perfect day by Georgia in July standards: mid-80s with plenty of cloud cover. The humidity isn’t going anywhere but hey, you can’t have it all. As the heat relented so too did the defense—at least in comparison to the first three practices—as this was the first session where the offense objectively had the more impressive day overall.
Looking for our live reactions? Check out our recap show from Day 4 below.
Let’s get to it with some of our observations from Day 4 of camp.
Desmond Ridder and the passing game have their best day
Following a rough start to camp on Wednesday, quarterback Desmond Ridder has continued to improve with each passing day. We can confidently (and happily) say that Saturday was the first time where he looked not just average, but legitimately good. His first pass in an early 7-on-7 drill was a deep shot to Drake London. While underthrown, it would likely have drawn a defensive pass interference from cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Thankfully, that was actually the low point of the entire day. Overall, Ridder converted 10 of 14 passes in the scrimmage periods (thanks to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein who tracks QB completions in camp). The young signal caller continues to look automatic on short to intermediate routes, and finally began connecting on some deeper throws. Even the deep passes that fell incomplete were thrown well enough to be considered legitimate 50/50 balls, which is in stark contrast to the over/underthrows we’ve been seeing the first three days.
We also had this beauty from Ridder to wide receiver Mack Hollins, who beat cornerback A.J. Terrell in the endzone.
Ridder displayed some nice chemistry with running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who returned to practice on Saturday after a veteran rest day. All in all, Ridder completed three passes to CP84, including what might be his deepest completion in camp so far in terms of air yards on a shot down the right sideline. We also saw the best day of camp from veteran wide receiver Scotty Miller, who made a number of impressive plays including this sideline grab.
Overall, Ridder looked incredibly poised: he made smart decisions with the football, maneuvered the pocket well, and the accuracy was finally there to all levels of the field. Let’s hope he can keep this up.
Bijan Robinson continues to impress
There are just some players you see on the football field and immediately know that they’re special talents. Rookie running back Bijan Robinson falls into that category. Even without pads, Robinson displays the type of fluidity and playmaking ability that made draft analysts water at the mouth when looking at his tape coming out of Texas.
Let’s start with his daily matchup against linebacker Troy Andersen in 1-on-1 drills. The series was tied heading into Saturday’s practice, with Andersen notching a PBU on Day 2 and Robinson making the play of training camp on a spectacular catch in the endzone on Day 3.
Robinson took the lead over his budding rival with this nasty move and terrific catch during Day 4.
Bijan Robinson v Troy Andersen pt. III pic.twitter.com/jQhEUOKNFX— Will McFadden (@willmcfadden) July 29, 2023
His cuts and ability to change direction look almost cartoonish, and we know that his ability to break tackles is outstanding. Robinson is already a bit of a celebrity as well, as fans raise the volume level every time he touches the ball. He’s been heavily involved in the passing game early, and should be expected to be a significant contributor on all three downs.
Clark Phillips III and the secondary continue making plays
Despite Ridder and fellow quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s strong day, the members of the secondary did not come away from practice without a few wins of their own. The biggest victory came from rookie cornerback Clark Phillips III, whose name has been mentioned every single day at this point. In a 7-on-7 drill, Phillips undercut quarterback Logan Woodside’s flat route pass intended for Penny Hart, intercepted it, and took it back for what could have been a pick-six in a real game situation.
Clark Phillips III just got a pic 6 undercutting a flat route pass from Logan Woodside.— Adnan Ikic (@SayWhichWay) July 29, 2023
Phillips was critiqued by coach Smith afterward for spending too much time celebrating the play instead of lining back up for the next rep, but it’s all a learning experience for the rookie. Phillips also had one of the only successful 1-on-1 plays against intriguing UDFA receiver Xavier Malone earlier in the day, as the ball fell incomplete.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell had his own success, breaking up a well thrown deep pass intended for receiver Frank Darby that could’ve easily been a touchdown. Cornerback Jeff Okudah made a really intelligent play to force wide receiver Scotty Miller out of bounds on another good-looking deep shot late. Safety Jessie Bates III also had his own pass breakup over the middle during the scrimmage session.
Ridder goes with a deeper pass to Scottie Miller along the sideline. Miller comes down with it but looks to be out of bounds. Great job by Okudah using the sideline as a help defender on the play— Adnan Ikic (@SayWhichWay) July 29, 2023
Eddie Goldman placed on the exempt/left team list, and more roster moves
Questions were circulating regarding the availability of defensive tackle Eddie Goldman from the very beginning of camp, when Smith declared that he would not be practicing despite being healthy and off the PUP list. It was later revealed that Goldman has been dealing with some “personal matters” and contemplating retirement. On Saturday, Arthur Smith confirmed in the post-practice press conference that Goldman would not be joining the team at this time. He was placed on the exempt/left team list and could be moved to the reserve/retired list if he decides to hang up the cleats once more.
In the meantime, the Falcons signed veteran nose tackle Justin Ellis. Smith also announced that the team would be releasing former UDFA linebacker Dorian Etheridge to make room for another signing: veteran edge rusher Kemoko Turay.
Falcons fans absolutely show out
There was tremendous energy in the air at the Flowery Branch facility on Saturday morning. The traffic to get to the Falcons’ facility extended almost all the way to the interstate, and the line of fans waiting to get on the hill didn’t clear out until almost an hour into practice.
When it finally did clear out, the hill itself was absolutely packed. The crowd seemed particularly enamored with rookie sensation Bijan Robinson, who joined Kyle Pitts and Drake London as the most popular players on the field. Whenever those guys made plays, there was a loud audible reaction.
This was easily the most packed that training camp has been since at least 2017, and the crowd brought a electric and positive energy to practice. Every player and coach who was asked about it afterward said they loved and appreciated the fans.
General manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith addressed the crowd as practice was beginning. Both expressed their gratitude for the fans’ support before declaring that Mercedes-Benz Stadium would be the toughest place to play for opposing teams in the NFL this year. In return, the duo promised to do everything in their power to put a winning product on the field.
There are great expectations for these Falcons following a number of promising moves during the offseason. With those expectations has come an excitement level from the fanbase that we haven’t seen in Atlanta in many years. Hopefully, the fans’ faith (and patience) will be rewarded with a successful team in 2023.
- The team received some positive news on the injury front, as Arthur Smith announced that starting left guard Matt Hennessy’s MRI results were “good news” and that he doesn’t expect a long-term absence for the veteran. In the meantime, Smith complimented rookie Matthew Bergeron for the job he’s done with the first team at left guard over the past two days. It’s tough to evaluate offensive line play without the pads, but the offense has (perhaps coincidentally) played much better on the two days with Bergeron in the lineup.
- The battle for that fifth and potentially sixth wide receiver spot continues to heat up. After Xavier Malone was a standout on Day 3, his competition in Penny Hart, Slade Bolden and Keilahn Harris all made plays and showed out at one point or another on Saturday. How this group fares once the pads come on will be one of the most interesting storylines next week. Here’s a nice rep from Bolden who had one of the only positive reps against rookie Clark Phillips III thus far.
- In addition to Ridder, backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke had his own best day of camp so far. He connected on several impressive deep passes to go along with consistently solid play in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. He hit a home run to the aforementioned Keilahn Harris on a deep post pattern which went for a score late in 11-on-11, and had multiple chunk passes throughout the afternoon to Slade Bolden, Kyle Pitts, Penny Hart and MyCole Pruitt.
- Speaking of Kyle Pitts, he continues to take it step by step in his recovery process. Both he and Arthur Smith commented on how nice it was to see him make a catch going to the ground at one point during practice. Smith commented that they’d finally have to wash his jersey for the first time all camp.
- Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Penny Hart and Bijan Robinson were the guys returning kicks and punts during today’s drills.
- The top depth linebackers through the first four days of camp have consistently been Mykal Walker and Nate Landman, with very little rotating at this point. We’ll see if anything changes, but these two look like heavy roster favorites at this stage.
- Running training camp interception counter (only counts for 7-on-7, 11-on-11 and red zone scrimmages) — Jaylinn Hawkins (2), Micah Abernathy, Jeff Okudah, Clark Phillips III
That it’s from us for today! Reminder that Sunday is a day off for the team, so it’ll be a day off for us as well. Perhaps we’ll finally catch up on some sleep. We’ll be back in action at Flowery Branch bright and early on Monday morning. Fingers crossed that we’ll see the first padded practice soon!
If you’re looking for more takes, this a reminder to check out our live recap from earlier tonight!
What are your thoughts on Day 4’s practice? Are you feeling encouraged by the offense’s ability to bounce back from a tough start to camp?