5 things learned from Falcons’ mandatory minicamp

Falcons quarterback AJ McCarron throws a pass during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. McCarron is vying to replace Matt Schaub, who retired after the 2020 season, as Matt Ryan's backup. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons quarterback AJ McCarron throws a pass during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. McCarron is vying to replace Matt Schaub, who retired after the 2020 season, as Matt Ryan's backup. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons coach Arthur Smith’s first offseason is winding down.

The team completed its mandatory minicamp Thursday and will have their final set of OTAs starting Monday before the team takes a break until training camp starts in late July.

Smith, the first-year head coach, had a clear vision for what he wanted to accomplish during the minicamp as both units appeared sharp and precise for this time of the year.

The Falcons ended practice with defensive tackle Marlon Davidson making a 20-yard field goal, which spared the defense some wind sprints. Tight end Lee Smith’s field-goal attempt was wide right for the offense, which had to run.

“After this (offseason) is over, I think whether it’s Year 1, Year 2, hopefully go on a long run here, but you’re looking at, ‘Hey, what can we do better?’” Smith said. “We’ll evaluate our offseason program. This makes sense for us right now because we’re in Year 1.”

Smith and his staff wanted to implement their schemes and have the players start to memorize the calls and formations. The next step will be to work on their techniques and executing at a high level.

“As we get into training camp, you have to understand what the objective is,” Smith said. “This is a build-up.”

Here are five things we learned at the mandatory minicamp:

1. Ridley’s surgery: Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, the heir apparent to the No. 1 receiver spot after the trade of Julio Jones, had minor foot surgery recently, the team confirmed Wednesday.

Ridley has not been practicing on the field in the open OTAs and was not on the field for minicamp.

“The entire objective is to get these guys into the best shape going into training camp and ready to roll ultimately for the regular season for somebody like in Calvin’s spot,” Smith said. “We have different guys working through different things.”

Ridley is doing all of the mental work, and he’s been present for the offseason.

“He’s been great,” Smith said. “We do a lot of walk-throughs and stuff whenever we can … (work in the) classroom. Calvin has been great.”

Caption
Falcons linebacker Dante Fowler (56) shares a laugh with teammates during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons linebacker Dante Fowler (56) shares a laugh with teammates during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons linebacker Dante Fowler (56) shares a laugh with teammates during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

2. Fowler in shape: A big jump in play by outside linebacker Dante Fowler will help the Falcons’ defensive plan immensely.

Fowler, who was training away from the team, participated this week in the mandatory minicamp. He was moving well in the scheme.

Fowler and Steven Means spent time helping rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji with his hand placements.

“He’s in good shape,” Smith said of Fowler. “Physically, he’s done a nice job. He’s been training.”

Fowler signed a three-year, $45 million deal as free agent last season, but struggled after trying to play through a high ankle sprain.

After Fowler recorded only three sacks last season, the Falcons asked him to take an incentive-laden contract that will pay him by the sack in 2021.

3. Ollison shined: The Falcons signed Mike Davis in free agency, but have insisted that they will have a committee at running back.

The new regime let go of the top three running backs from last season in Todd Gurley, Brian Hill (signed with Titans) and Ito Smith. They retained Qadree Ollison, the fourth-string back, who had only one carry last season.

Caption
Falcons running backs Caleb Huntley (from left), Qadree Ollison, Mike Davis and Tony Brooks-James get in some work during organize team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at the team training facility in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons running backs Caleb Huntley (from left), Qadree Ollison, Mike Davis and Tony Brooks-James get in some work during organize team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at the team training facility in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons running backs Caleb Huntley (from left), Qadree Ollison, Mike Davis and Tony Brooks-James get in some work during organize team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at the team training facility in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Ollison and Cordarrelle Patterson received some extra work with Davis not on the field for minicamp.

Smith was impressed with Ollison’s work.

After having 22 carries and four rushing touchdowns as a rookie, Ollison was buried on the bench last season. He had only one carry in 2020 and played in only three games as he struggled with pass protection.

Ollison, who’s 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft out of Pittsburgh.

In 2018, he rushed 194 times for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns and was named second-team All-ACC. He ranked second in the ACC in total yards, third in rushing yards (86.6 per game). He became the sixth Pitt Panther to achieve multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

4. Tryout player landed deal: Outside linebacker Jeff Holland, one of the five tryout players for minicamp, signed a one-year contract with the Falcons on Thursday.

Defensive lineman Miles Brown (Wofford, 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds), linebacker Sharif Finch (Temple, 6-4, 250), offensive lineman Wyatt Miller (Central Florida, 6-5, 298), and wide receiver Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State, 6-5, 210) also received tryouts.

The Falcons are trying to improve their depth at linebacker.

Holland (6-2, 249), who played at Auburn, played three games with Denver and made six tackles in 2018. He’s since spent time with the Cardinals, Bills, Chargers and Rams.

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Falcons cornerback Fabian Moreau (22) runs a drill with fellow defensive backs during a mandatory minicamp Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Falcons cornerback Fabian Moreau (22) runs a drill with fellow defensive backs during a mandatory minicamp Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons cornerback Fabian Moreau (22) runs a drill with fellow defensive backs during a mandatory minicamp Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

5. Discipline, accountability: Smith wants his team to play with discipline and be held accountable.

He has the players running laps and doing push-ups for various violations.

Tight end Kyle Pitts had to run a lap Thursday. Center Matt Hennessy ran one Wednesday. A couple of young defensive backs were seen doing push-ups after one period.

“For my position, I’m able to move before the snap, so it doesn’t really affect me,” cornerback Fabian Moreau said of players running laps after false starts and offside penalties. “But for the offensive line and defensive line and the receivers, they’ve been holding themselves accountable and getting that lap in.”

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