Falcons and Desmond Ridder pushing through first week of OTAs

FLOWERY BRANCH — About 80 players, including starting quarterback Desmond Ridder, participated in the Falcons’ second OTA on Wednesday.

“Every day is different,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Different veterans have different things. That’s real. I’ll never sit there and guilt-trip anybody. You’re going to make the team by how you perform in August.”

Safety Jessie Bates, one of the team’s biggest free-agent pickups, has been at the offseason sessions, but was excused Wednesday.

“There is life that happens outside of football,” Smith said. “Having their first child. If something comes up, a family issue. It’s the offseason. There is life outside of the building. We’ve got the right guys here.”

The Falcons are focusing on the mental aspects of the game since no contact is allowed.

“We’re just trying to take advantage of the opportunity to get out here and continue to work on the things we want to improve on,” Smith said. “Communication, whether it’s offensively, defensively or special teams. Things that we’ve added in the offseason are things that we want to work on.”

The Falcons were major players in free agency and drafted six players, including running back Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick. He was in attendance.

“Keeping it in perspective, it’s a buildup phase,” Smith said. “There are things that don’t simulate real football, especially at the line of scrimmage. We try to be smart about how we want to work on things on the perimeter. We still want to be very smart. We don’t want to be out there playing a bunch of bump-and-run and grabbing and stuff like that.”

Ridder, who’s set to enter his second season in the NFL, was named the starter over the offseason. He started the last four games of the regular season and went 2-2.

“This time last year, my head was spinning,” Ridder said. “Obviously, after having a year under my belt, going through a full season and full offseason, it’s become a lot more comfortable. Now, we’re just trying to work the intricate details of it.”

Wide receiver Drake London, who’s also set to enter his second season, has noticed a change in Ridder’s demeanor.

“Just his overall leadership,” London said. “He’s taken over that role fully. He’s gotten a little stronger. That helps, too. Like I said, he’s just taken that role of leadership fully. You can see it.”

Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, who coming off a knee surgery that cut his 2022 season short, was not at the open portion of practice.

“Just like the rest of our guys, everybody is working on different things,” Smith said. “Different returns-to-play, trying to get in the best shape possible so he’s ready to go (for the season opener) Sept. 10. We’ll try to get creative for some guys who are at different points in their career. It’s no different. (I) feel good about where everybody is at.”

Running back Caleb Huntley is coming back from a rupture Achilles.

“If it’s practice it would be different,” Smith said. “You’d actually be competing along the lines of scrimmage. There are things we are working on. You’re not going to see us run the football here in the spring. That’s not what we are trying to do here.”

The Falcons want Ridder to take charge.

“Continue to improve on the things we asked him to do pre-snap, post-snap (and at the) line of scrimmage,” Smith said. “(Identify) certain looks … all of those things matter. Those are things you can control.”

The Falcons signed Taylor Heinicke in free agency to back up Ridder.

“Like any player here, it’s all about the improvement,” Smith said. “It’s the same thing for Taylor, Logan (Woodside) or Austin (Aune) or any quarterback or wide receiver. There isn’t anything after Day 1, there is no magical update and we’re ready to go play Week 1.”

Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell, who’s set to enter his 16th season in the NFL, was on hand. Smith likes the mix of veterans such as Campbell and Bud Dupree, who can provide authentic leadership.

“Calais certainly fits that mold,” Smith said. “It’s real. I’m glad he’s here. Same thing about Bud Dupree. Very happy with Bud Dupree. He has to do it his own way. His habits.”

Defensive tackle David Onyemata also is a contributor.

“He’s a veteran who brings a presence into that (group),” Smith said. “That’s what I’m excited about.”

Here’s a few notes:

Bergeron update: Former starting center Matt Hennessy was working with the first-team offense at left guard. Rookie Matthew Bergeron is expected to be a contender for that starting spot.

“A lot of it is mental,” Smith said. “There is a lot of individual work, again with the way that we operate, the train is moving. We have our own individual development plans for every player in the program. But you understand that he’s a rookie.”

He noted that left tackle Jake Matthews has another notch and Bergeron has to keep up.

“There is just a lot going on mentally,” Smith said.

Bergeron, who was drafted in the second round, played tackle at Syracuse.

Smith on Jim Brown: Smith was asked about the death of former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown, who’s widely considered the best running back and maybe the best player ever to play in the NFL.

“He was a great player, a legend in this league,” Smith said. “He had an impact in a lot of different ways. It’s sad, but he had an enormous impact on the game of football and the game of lacrosse, too. But in a lot of other things that are bigger than football in life.”

Bates updated: Bates has made a positive offseason impression with the Falcons.

“Jessie is one guy. … He’s at home awaiting the birth of a child,” Smith said. “That’s important. That’s more important than anything we are doing right now. Jessie is back home. Jessie has been in here every day. ... He’s been awesome. We’re happy to have Jessie.”

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