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Falcons training camp 2023: Day 5 recap and notes

After the first off day on Sunday, the team returned to the field for Day 5 of Falcons training camp and the first day in pads on Monday. As a result, we finally got our first look at some intense battles in the trenches.

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

After the first off day on Sunday, Kevin and Adnan were back at Flowery Branch bright and early Monday morning for Day 5 of Atlanta Falcons training camp. Monday featured the all-important first day in pads, and while it was considered a shorter “ramp-up” practice by Arthur Smith, we got our first real glimpse at battles between the offensive and defensive lines. For more coverage and clips, we direct you to our Twitter (X?) feeds (Kevin, Adnan).

Looking for our live reactions? You can catch us both on YouTube at 6 PM ET.

Let’s get to it with some of our observations from Day 5 of camp.

First day in pads leads to battle in the trenches

The first day in pads also brought with it the first day of 1-on-1s for the offensive and defensive lines. There were only a handful, but we saw two reps involving Day 2 rookies who really stood out.

The most impressive rep came from rookie edge rusher Zach Harrison, who absolutely annihilated second-year offensive tackle Tyler Vrabel. Harrison hit him with a bull rush that was simply too much for Vrabel to handle. We also saw a nice rep from rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron, who withstood an onslaught from defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham.

Even apparent fan favorite Ryan Neuzil got a nice rep in against DT Timmy Horne, who otherwise had a pretty solid day in 11-on-11 drills.

There wasn’t a ton of these reps to watch, and overall it was a competitive practice with both sides of the ball winning their fair share of rep. We should expect more of these OL/DL battles in the coming days as the team ramps up towards full contact ahead of the joint practices with Miami.

Kyle Pitts gets his first reps in 1-on-1s and 11-on-11s

After a slow but steady ramp up during the first week of training camp, Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts made his return to 11-on-11 and 1-on-1 drills on Monday. Pitts has taken a few reps here and there, but has mostly been involved in drills only up until this point. It was great to see him out there running at (or close to) full speed, even if this first pass from Desmond Ridder was thrown behind him.

Pitts looked sharp on his route, leaving safety Jaylinn Hawkins—who himself has been having an excellent start to camp—in the dust. The timing is clearly not there yet between Pitts and Ridder, as Ridder also missed Pitts on a deeper route during 11-on-11 later in practice.

It’s been great to see Pitts returning to full speed, and hopefully the duo can start getting on the same page now that Pitts is having his practice restrictions gradually removed.

In the post-practice press conference on Saturday, Pitts talked about how he’s now in the mindset of moving from one step to the next and today seemed to be a pretty big step for him. Arthur Smith did state that they would probably be ramping him up quicker if he was set to play in a game in two weeks.

Bijan Robinson and Carlos Washington Jr. shine, Godwin Igwebuike joins the fray

Big shocker today, as Falcons rookie phenom Bijan Robinson once again had a highlight reel play during practice.

The rookie running back went up against linebacker Kaden Elliss during Day 5’s 1-on-1 session, and managed to get the better of the veteran with a nasty double move. His acceleration and movement skills are simply unfair in these drills—I don’t know that any NFL linebackers will have much of a chance against him 1-on-1.

Bijan also had arguably the best run during the red zone 11-on-11 period, taking a carry for 10 yards thanks to some shifty moves in the backfield. Tyler Allgeier added a very nice run early in practice, as well.

Outside of the top guys, UDFA running back Carlos Washington Jr. had arguably his best day of camp today. He was effective in both the run and pass game, carrying the ball effectively, showing off moves in the open field, and catching the ball very well out of the backfield. That’s even more meaningful now that the pads have come on. He had one of the longest receptions of the day, and almost all were after the catch on a screen pass.

We also saw the expected signing of another running back: veteran Godwin Igwebuike. Igwebuike is wearing #42, Caleb Huntley’s old number. This was Igwebuike’s first day with the team, so his work was limited to a few carries out of the backfield while he gets up to speed on the playbook.

There’s a tremendous opportunity to earn the fourth RB spot for either Washington Jr. or Igwebuike. Washington Jr. has the advantage of impressing over the first week of camp and the offseason, but Igwebuike has skills as a returner that could be a “golden ticket” to the roster if he can win that job. We’ll have to see how these two battle it out into the preseason, as both should be in line for significant workloads.

Falcons run defense flexes its muscle overall

Despite the anticipation for what we would see out of the run game when pads came on, Atlanta’ run defense won the day and for the most part shut the rushing attack down. Bijan Robinson’s 10-yard run in the red zone which was mentioned in the last section was maybe the longest run of the day overall.

It’s a testament to how well the linebackers played as a collective today that Atlanta’s stout rushing attack was for the most part kept quiet. Nate Landman, Kaden Ellis, Mykal Walker and Troy Andersen all had very good days in 11 on 11. That’s not to say that there weren’t some individual moments of brilliance from Atlanta’s RBs, but they were fewer and further between than originally anticipated.

Drake London vs Clark Phillips III has become a marquee matchup

One of the most fun battles over the course of camp has come between two former college rivals: wide receiver Drake London and rookie cornerback Clark Phillips III. Phillips III had the advantage on some reps earlier in practice, and you could tell London was pumped up to get a win of his own.

London decidedly to show off the physicality on this rep, playing bully ball against Phillips from beginning to the end. It ended up being a smart decision, as London came away with the terrific catch despite very tight coverage from Phillips. This has become one of the marquee matchups of training camp thus far, and we’re just getting started.

Quarterbacks struggle early, heat up late

After a tremendous Day 4 on Saturday where all three quarterbacks had their best performance of camp, things settled down a bit—particularly during the early portion of practice. After a day off, things looked a little most rusty to open camp, with Ridder missing Kyle Pitts early and the defense able to break up a few passes from the depth quarterbacks.

As practice went on, however, things started to click for the offense. Ridder was once again very sharp in the short-to-intermediate area of the field, and continued to improve as practice went on. His final throw of the day, a 20-yard sideline shot to Drake London, was one of the better passes I’ve seen from him during camp.

Not to be outdone, the other quarterbacks responded with their own improvements later in practice. We saw Taylor Heinicke connect with former second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside deep down the middle of the field. It was the best play so far for Arcega-Whiteside, who has had a relatively quiet camp thus far.

We also saw Toledo legend Logan Woodside connect on maybe the most flashy play of camp thus far: a beautiful deep bomb to wide receiver Slade Bolden, who has really started to come on over the past few practices.

The rust isn’t surprising after a day off, and Arthur Smith confirmed this was more-or-less a “ramp-up” practice as it’s the first day in pads. We’ll hope we can get more consistent play—particularly the deep passing game—as training camp continues. Overall, things are still trending in the right direction compared to the first few days of camp.

Other notes

  • Arthur Smith gave another update on guard Matt Hennessy, who is day-to-day with his injury.
  • UDFA wide receiver Xavier Malone continues to impress and show off the wheels. He took a swing pass for a massive gain early, and nearly had an awesome touchdown grab that came loose as he was going to the ground. Penny Hart also had a few nice grabs today, and had a nice play on a 1-on-1 rep against Dee Alford.
  • With veteran nose tackle Eddie Goldman seemingly out of the picture, former UDFA Timmy Horne has emerged as the starting nose tackle. He’s made some nice plays from that spot and should probably be considered the favorite at this stage.
  • Nate Landman and Mykal Walker seem pretty solidified in their role as the primary depth linebackers. Both continue to get consistent second team reps and even mix in with the starters at some points.
  • This was the first day where there was not a single interception thrown from any QB. 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
  • Coach Arthur Smith joked in the post-practice press conference that they may get some waivers signed to have members of the media take some reps during camp (I think it was a joke). If Adnan and Kevin wake up out of their minds tomorrow, we could see them in a helmet and some pads themselves.

That it’s from us for today! Both Adnan and Kevin will be back out there tomorrow morning continuing their coverage of camp for The Falcoholic!

What are your thoughts on Day 5’s practice? Are you excited to see more battles in the trenches now that the pads have come on?