Falcons’ Bijan Robinson makes his practice debut at rookie minicamp

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons running back Bijan Robinson, who was taken eighth overall in the NFL draft, flashed his speed and pass-catching ability at the team’s rookie minicamp Friday.

Robinson glided through the drills during the open portion of the practice. He took handoffs and caught passes out of the backfield after he signed his four-year, $21.9 million contract.

“It felt good to go out there and not worry about anything except playing football and doing what you love,” Robinson said.

The Falcons are expecting Robinson to play a major role in the offseason.

Robinson was an unanimous All-American in 2022 and the winner of the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back. Overall, he played in 31 games and made 28 starts at Texas. He rushed for 3,410 yards and scored 41 touchdowns (33 rushing, eight receiving). He rushed for more than 100 yards in 18 games.

“Like Clark (Phillips III) and all of these guys, it’s the first day out here,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said when asked how Robinson’s first day went. “There is a lot of teaching, build-up, progressions. At least they all pass the look test.”

Robinson enjoyed his first practice with the Falcons.

“It’s exciting,” Robinson said. “For them to give me a chance to come out here to show the ability that I’ve been given.”

Robinson is looking forward to working into the offense and plans to learn from wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts.

“Drake and Kyle are two great players for the team and for the NFL because they do things the right way at their positions,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, I can learn from them in practices and even off the field to see how they became successful in their games, so I can become successful with my game.”

Robinson is not worrying about meeting the lofty expectations that some have for him. Las Vegas oddsmakers have listed Robinson as the favorite to win the NFL’s offensive rookie-of-the-year award. Wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Ja’Marr Chase have won the award the past two seasons.

“For me, I don’t pay attention to it,” Robinson said. “I know that God has a plan for me. If it’s for me to do those type of things, that’s what I’m going to do. But I do know that I’m going to work as hard as I can.”

Robinson plans to focus on learning the Falcons’ playbook.

“Obviously get everything down the right way when it comes to the playbook, my assignments and know what I’m supposed to do,” Robinson said. “Then after that, those things will be in my life. I just want to learn, get better and let everything else take care of itself.”

The Falcons had 41 players in for tryouts to go with 17 players who either were drafted, were undrafted free agents or were on the practice squad last season.

Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick (57th overall) by the Eagles in 2019 was in for a tryout. He has played in 40 NFL games, with seven starts. He has 16 catches for 290 yards and one TD.

Former Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice and former Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald were in for tryouts.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Smith said. “It is every year. There are guys that I’ve coached that have been really good NFL players, and they may have been cut from (another team). It may be a vet tryout or a rookie who didn’t get to sign right afterwards. There have been great players. ... It’s a really great opportunity for guys. It’s really kind of a three-day workout and tryout there.”

Brice, who played at Grayson High and led them to a state title, played at Appalachian State after stops at Clemson and Duke. He passed for 54 touchdowns passes over the past two seasons and led the Mountaineers to a upset of Texas A&M.

“A lot of things are going to be foreign to him,” Smith said. “Just the way that we logistically operate, communicate. The guys maybe calling (plays) from signs, those look-at-me signs for guys in (loud-colored) highlighter clothes and you don’t know what team you’re watching. ... There are little things, different logistical operation. Chase and Matt did a nice job of handling all of that.”

Smith and his staff are not expecting the players to be in top football shape.

“I understand the big picture, too, a lot of these guys, I don’t care how great of shape they are in, it’s hard to get into football shape,” Smith said. “We understand that, especially the guys (who) have been traveling around on the banquet circuit, top-30 visits and trying to work out in their (hotel) weight rooms. There is not a lot there.”

The Falcons are focusing on the basics.

“It’s a lot of teaching,” Smith said. “How we do things. A little bit of speed so we can get evaluations. We don’t want the collisions. So, there is kind of a method to the madness. We’ll pick it up as the weekend goes and obviously over the offseason.”

Note: Phillips, who was selected in the fourth round (113th overall) of the draft, and offensive lineman Jovaughn Gwyn, who was selected in the seventh round (225th overall), signed their four-year contracts with the Falcons on Friday. Phillips’ deal is worth $4.6 million, and Gwyn’s deal is worth $3.94 million.

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