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Falcons training camp 2023: Day 6 recap and notes

The Falcons came out in pads for the second-straight practice on Tuesday, leading to another physical battle in the trenches on Day 6. We also saw a strong day from Taylor Heinicke, an impressive interception from Richie Grant, and much more.

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

The grind continued on Tuesday morning as we moved into Day 6 of Atlanta Falcons training camp. This was also the second day of padded practice, with the team continuing the “ramp-up” following a shorter practice on Monday. As always, Adnan and Kevin were on the scene to take everything in and to report it all. For more coverage and clips, we direct you to our Twitter (X?) feeds (Kevin, Adnan).

You can catch our live show, recorded from the Flowery Branch facility right after the conclusion of today’s practice and press conferences here.

Let’s get to it with some of our observations from Day 6 of camp.

The run defense won the day once again

We were really looking forward to seeing how Atlanta’s new-look run defense would perform once the pads came on. Yesterday, they clearly came out ahead. Today, they were somehow even better.

Atlanta’s running backs were stuffed almost every time they took a handoff, and it was incredibly rare to see the offensive line create a big enough hole and keep it open for long enough for anything to develop. Overall, I don’t think I saw a single run which went for even 10 yards as the front seven was outright smothering.

Rookie sensation Bijan Robinson, who was drawing headline after headline in the first four days of camp, has had almost no room to operate. He fumbled once on a trip up and may have had a second fumble later in 11-on-11s, but it seemed like his knee hit the ground. Arnold Ebikete forced and Dee Alford recovered the second fumble (if the knee didn’t hit) but we did not see who was responsible for the great defensive play on the first one—it may have been edge rusher Lorenzo Carter.

Desmond Ridder continues to look sharp on short-to-intermediate passes, Taylor Heinicke has a strong day

It was more of the same for Desmond Ridder today—he completed an impressive percentage of his passes but the very vast majority during team sessions were very short. Ridder was noticeably more aggressive in 1-on-1s, where he hit Penny Hart in the endzone on one of the best passes of the day. Still, there’s been a very limited number of deep attempts for the second-year signal caller thus far.

Overall, Ridder’s deepest pass in scrimmage went for maybe 10 yards to London on an out route. By Adnan’s count, he had two passes that traveled longer than 20 yards downfield. One was to London (who was covered well by CB Jeff Okudah) and was too low for the WR to have a chance, the other was intercepted by S Richie Grant on his last pass of the day. This one looked to be a miscommunication between Ridder and WR Josh Ali, and Grant made an outstanding leaping interception for the ball.

Conversely, we were impressed by what we saw from Taylor Heinicke today. The pass of the day was his throw to WR Frank Darby on a deep out route where he really needed to thread the needle on the far side of the field. Heinicke continued to be the more aggressive of the three quarterbacks and is clearly more willing to take risks downfield. He also had an impressive throw to a tightly covered London along the sideline, which London toe tapped magnificently.

Outside of the consistent deep passing attack, Heinicke maneuvered around in the pocket well, consistently set his pass catchers up with yards after the catch (YAC) opportunities on shorter passes and only had one “poor” pass all day, and even that one was scooped up off the turf by a diving J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Drake London, Kyle Pitts have best days yet

Drake London had a spectacular day today, following his highlight reel one on one rep against CB Clark Phillips III yesterday and strong performance in those scrimmages. It feels like he was waiting for the pads to come on to start taking over with his unique blend of size, physicality, and athleticism.

London has clearly been the best pass catcher on the field over the first week of training camp, but even more so over the past few practices. He consistently got open for his QB and made some spectacular catches along the sideline even when working against tight coverage. He had toe tapping receptions on throws from both Ridder and Heinicke, and displayed his range catching passes to all three levels of the field. London seems to have gotten into his rhythm and that’s not a good thing for the defense.

He didn’t complete win every rep, however. Okudah had tight coverage on him on Ridder’s first deep throw which wasn’t fully accurate and A.J. Terrell got the better of him with a pass breakup later in practice so iron has certainly been sharpening iron.

Tight end Kyle Pitts has also continued to become more involved in both 1-on-1 and team sessions since the pads came on yesterday. Pitts and Ridder are clearly starting to get their timing down, as the duo connected on multiple passes throughout practice.

Pitts is still not out there as much as the other starters, but he seems to be getting closer every day. He’s also starting to look like the athletic marvel that the Falcons draft fourth overall back in 2021.

Richie Grant records an interception in late stages of practice

After we had our first interception-free day on Monday, the defense got back to their habit of takeaways. This time it was Richie Grant picking off Desmond Ridder’s deep passing attempt to Josh Ali.

The play happened on the first team’s closing 2-minute drill where they had to go down field and try and score a touchdown in 11-on-11 After picking up a first down to tight end MyCole Pruitt on the sideline, Ridder tried to go deep to Ali. There appeared to be a possible miscommunication on the route, which gave Grant an opportunity to make a leaping interception. It’s arguably the flashiest INT of camp so far.

Grant also had a strong day in helping to shut down the run game, as the team has him playing closer to the line of scrimmage than fellow safety Jessie Bates III. We’re expecting big things from Grant, who is now entering his third season and playing next to an elite talent in Bates.

Zach Harrison and Timmy Horne continue to shine

Rookie edge rusher Zach Harrison has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp so far. While there was no doubting his talent and traits, few expected Harrison to stand out this early. He had yet another sack on Tuesday and even applied the pressure on a pass breakup at the line of scrimmage.

After the practice, veteran defensive tackle David Onyemata told the media that Harrison is really taking advantage of his opportunities thus far. We would tend to agree, as the rookie out of Ohio State could make an impact on the field much earlier than expected.

Second-year nose tackle Timmy Horne also continued his very strong camp, which has flown under the radar a little bit. He had a sack today and has been a nightmare in both run defense and in applying pressure along the interior of the line in passing situations in 11-on-11.

Horne was an end of roster depth piece in 2022, but he’s been consistently running with the starters in Eddie Goldman’s absence and has impressed. We expect him to not only be a roster lock but a legitimate contributor come Week 1. With Goldman being placed on the exempt/left squad list, it seems like Horne has risen to the challenge of the starting lineup.

Other notes

  • Top cornerback A.J. Terrell continued his strong camp with several pass breakups in both 1-on-1s and the team session. He’s been getting more and more comfortable in Nielsen’s new-look defense, and it shows. The secondary has a chance to be a real strength in 2023.
  • LB Troy Andersen had a really strong day today, particularly in tight end and running back coverage in scrimmages. He broke up a pass intended for TE Kyle Pitts, and any time his man would catch the ball, he’d always be close by to make the tackle for minimal gain.
  • WR Frank Darby had his best day of camp so far. He brought in a deep out pass from Heinicke—which was the longest gain of the day in scrimmage—and got a step on Clark Phillips III but received a poor pass which let the CB recover in the one on one drill.
  • WR Penny Hart was also heavily involved and had a strong day overall. He made some impressive plays in scrimmage and one on ones, returned punts, and was even working as a gunner in punt coverage drills. He also added an excellent catch in a two-on-two drill. The flip side was a bad mental error at the end of practice with the offense on the doorstep of the end zone in QB Logan Woodside’s 2-minute drill. Following a catch, Hart went to the end zone to celebrate, which led to time expiring. An irate Woodside slammed his helmet in frustration.
  • TE Feleipe Franks looked to be heavily involved, particularly during Woodside’s turn in scrimmage, and responded with his best day of camp so far. He was consistently targeted and caught every pass which came his way, including an impressive one that he had to adjust to in traffic.
  • Still no Matt Hennessy out there as rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron continued working with the starters. Tight end Jonnu Smith was not spotted, but that could be just a veteran rest day. Veteran receiver Scotty Miller was also wearing the yellow “no contact” jersey.
  • Training camp interception counter (only counting scrimmages and red zone drills): Jaylinn Hawkins (2), Micah Abernathy, Clark Phillips III, Richie Grant

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! This will be Kevin’s final day while Adnan will also be out there once more, on Saturday.

What are your thoughts on Day 6’s practice? Are you excited to see more battles in the trenches now that the pads have come on?