Cover 9@9: Falcons camp to ramp up over next 10 days

1. The no-spin zone: The Falcons went light in practice Monday and Tuesday, in part because training camp is set to ramp up over the next 10 days.

The Falcons have two games left and four joint practices, which will go a long way in helping them to determine the initial 53-man roster.

The Falcons are set to practice with the Jets on Friday and Saturday in Florham Park, N.J., before playing an exhibition game Monday.

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Trevor Lawrence, former UGA standout Travon Walker and the Jacksonville Jaguars will come to Flowery Branch for practices Aug. 24 and Aug. 25 before playing at 3 p.m. Aug. 27 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith believes the team is making progress.

“I think we have, certainly,” Smith said Tuesday. “That’s playing itself out right now.”

Smith likes where the team is at heading into this busy stretch.

“I do; you know this is different,” Smith said. “Schedules change a lot as you start the (exhibition) games. We had something different (Monday) night, turned around and come out for an afternoon practice (Tuesday). It’s a pretty short turnaround, and you want to see guys compete.”

The Falcons passed that test.

“It was competitive (Tuesday), which you like to see, so I was proud of the guys.” Smith said. “It’s never going to be perfect, but these guys have the right mindset and came with the right attitude in approach.”

2. Alford showing out: Smith appreciates cornerback Dee Alford’s work ethic.

“Obviously, you guys see the splash plays, but his approach to the job is a very serious-minded approach,” Smith said. “He came up a different route, went to Tusculum, went to the CFL. He signed a contract with us, and since he signed that contract all he’s done is work.”

3. Starters on special teams: Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter was on the kickoff coverage unit against the Lions.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re a starter on offense or defense,” Falcons special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams said. “If they’re helping us on that down, that’s the most important down.”

Williams vowed to put the best 11 players on the field.

“We have to understand, too, when we’re talking about special teams, kickoff is the first play of defense,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter who’s out there. It could be A.J. (Terrell), Rashaan (Evans), it could be Mykal Walker, it could be Mike Ford – it doesn’t matter who’s out there. We’re going to put the best 11 out there.”

We went back to NFL-plus for film review of the opening kickoff. In addition to Carter, Avery Williams, DeAngelo Malone, Dorian Etheridge, Erik Harris, Doug Marlowe, Quinton Bell, Keith Smith, Darren Hall and Mike Ford were on the kickoff coverage team.

4. London update: Smith said wide receiver Drake London, who was hit on his left knee on his only catch against the Lions, likely will miss this week. With London out, the Falcons are looking at the depth at wide receiver.

“You need a lot of guys. I know certain guys get a lot of attention when they’re a top pick,” Smith said. “People get involved and obsessed with stats, but it takes 11 players to make something go for offense, special teams and defense, so I like where our team’s at and the way these guys work and compete.”

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5. Ragone on the QBs: Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone gave his critique Tuesday of the play of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder.

“I think, first and foremost, there were a couple of things that we wanted to accomplish with the quarterbacks – get out there and get out of the huddle with tempo, get us into the (plays) logistically, the motion landmarks, the right plays – so we wanted to see that from a mental standpoint,” Ragone said.

Once they were able to run some plays, Ragone focused on the execution.

“So, go through your reads, your progressions,” Ragone said. “Then, obviously, allow yourself to continue to move the ball down the field. You saw it in the first drive with Marcus. Not everything played out exactly perfectly, but he found a way to continue with the rest of the offense to keep the chains going and found the end zone.”

6. Oliver cross training at safety: Falcons nickel back Isaiah Oliver has been getting some work at safety.

“Well, there were a couple of guys we are trying to cross train, no different than the (offensive) line,” Smith said. “Depending on who’s up on game day, you’ve got guys that can play multiple spots when you’ve got 48 guys up. If you want to run multiple personnel packages, which we do, you’ve got to be able to cross train guys. We’ll do that with a couple of different guys.”

7. Oliver wants some exhibition-game action: Oliver, who is coming back from knee surgery, wants to get some action in the exhibition season.

Oliver was held out against the Lions on Friday. Ford started at nickel back.

“I definitely want to test it before (the season starts),” Oliver said Monday night after the practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “That’s going to come from talking to Coach (Smith), with the athletic trainers and just getting a plan together. For me, I definitely want to get out there in (an exhibition game) for sure.”

Oliver’s practice load has increased.

“I’ve been able to get back to live reps, a few of them every day, has been a big help for sure,” Oliver said. “You just have to get all the reps that you can.”

Oliver, who was moved to nickel back in the 2020 season, was injured against Washington on Oct. 3.

“The rehab part is not that much fun,” Oliver said. “We’re here now, so I’m in a much better space.”

Oliver is fine with his return-to-play plan.

“It’s hard,” Oliver said. “That’s what they say the toughest part about it is with long-term rehabs. But even if it feels good, it looks good, you might not still be ready to go play a full football game, even though I feel like I am mentally.

“That has been the hardest part over these last few weeks. We are getting closer and closer. So, I know at one point it’s going to happen.”

Oliver wants his practice time and playing time to increase.

“Just getting more comfortable would be the easy way to put it,” Oliver said. “The knee feels good when I’m doing the drills and playing football. It feels fine. I guess I kind of have to get more comfortable back in the technique and doing the things how they need to be done.”

8. More depth, physical: Oliver has a few observations about the 2022 team.

“More depth, for sure,” Oliver said. “I can say that is the thing that I first notice, and I think that we are more physical. I think that is a testament to (Smith) and kind of what his plan was, especially with this training camp. We are much more physical, and we have a lot more guys who can go out there and impact the game.”

9. Depth chart: To get to the 85-player maximum by 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Falcons cut four players. They also placed a player on injured reserve.

“(General manager) Terry (Fontenot) and I talked to every person that went through that,” Smith said Tuesday. “Those are not easy discussions, but as always, everything we do here, we do it with dignity.”

Tight end Tucker Fisk, inside linebacker Rashad Smith, punter Seth Vernon and safety Tre Webb were released.

Cornerback Cornell Armstrong (undisclosed injury) was placed on injured reserve.

“It’s really hard when you have a competitive camp,” Smith said. “You’ve got to make decisions on guys that have really done everything that you’ve asked them to do.”

Wide receiver KeeSean Johnson, who recently was cut by the 49ers, signed with the Falcons on Wednesday.

Also, the Falcons released wide receiver Tyshaun James and waived defensive tackle Bryce Rodgers with an injury settlement. Both were signed as undrafted free agents after the 2022 NFL draft.

Vernon punted three times against the Lions for 134 yards and an average 44.7 gross, 41.3 net. He also placed two punts inside the 20. Veteran Bradley Pinion will be the team’s punter.

“We were very blessed to have Seth here,” Williams said. “He does have a very strong and talented leg to play at this level. I wish him nothing but the best. When it comes to that position and him playing, his future in the NFL, he is talented. ... His best days are yet to come in this profession. I’m excited for him wherever that may be.”

The teams must cut to 80 players by Tuesday, and the final cutdown to 53 players must be completed by 4 p.m. Aug. 30.

Teams then can sign 16 players to the practice squad by noon Aug. 31.

Here’s the updated depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR: KhaDarel Hodge, Geronimo Allison, Damiere Byrd, Auden Tate, Drake London, KeeSean Johnson

TE: Kyle Pitts, Anthony Firkser, Feleipe Franks

LT: Jake Matthews, Rick Leonard, Leroy Watson

LG: Elijah Wilkinson, Jalen Mayfield, Justin Shaffer

C: Matt Hennessy -OR- Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RG: Chris Lindstrom, Colby Gossett, Jonotthan Harrison

RT: Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Tyler Vrabel

TE: Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick

WR: Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryan Edwards, Frank Darby, Cameron Batson, Stanley Berryhill, Jared Bernhardt

RB: Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Keith Smith, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams, John Raine, Tyler Allgeier

QB: Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, Feleipe Franks

DEFENSE

DL: (DE) Grady Jarrett, Jalen Dalton, Abdullah Anderson, Timothy Horne

DL: (NT) Anthony Rush, Nick Thurman, Derrick Tangelo

DL: (DE) Ta’Quon Graham, Marlon Davidson, Darrion Daniels

OLB: Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, Kuony Deng

ILB: Mykal Walker, Nick Kwiatkoski, Troy Andersen

ILB: Rashaan Evans, Dorian Etheridge, Nathan Landman

OLB: Lorenzo Carter, Quinton Bell, Jordan Brailford, DeAngelo Malone

CB: A.J. Terrell, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Matt Hankins

S: Richie Grant, Erik Harris, Henry Black

S: Jaylinn Hawkins, Dean Marlowe, Teez Tabor

CB: Casey Hayward, Darren Hall, Isaiah Oliver, Dee Alford, Lafayette Pitts

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Younghoe Koo

P: Bradley Pinion

LS: Liam McCullough

H: Bradley Pinion

PR: Avery Williams

KOR: Avery Williams

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