Falcons to lean heavily on the 2020 rookie class

Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell comes up with the pick while running a defensive drill during training camp practice Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Flowery Branch.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell comes up with the pick while running a defensive drill during training camp practice Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Flowery Branch.

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Falcons are pushing extremely hard to get some major contributions from their 2020 draft class.

Cornerback A.J. Terrell, who was selected with the 16th overall pick, is slated to start at left cornerback. He’s been going against wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to get prepared for NFL receivers.

“That boy is a dog. ... He’s doing an excellent job,” free safety Damontae Kazee said.

While Terrell is not winning every matchup against the dynamic receiving tandem, he’s holding his own. General manager Thomas Dimitroff noted that he’s “staying in phase” with Jones and Ridley.

Second-round pick Marlon Davidson, who’s been out with a strained knee, and center/guard Matt Hennessy have roles waiting for them. Davidson has to get healthy to claim his spot in the defensive line rotation, and Hennessy has to beat out James Carpenter, who was one of the lowest graded guards in the league last season by Pro Football Focus.

The team helped to clear Hennessy’s path by releasing veteran Jamon Brown on Monday.

Here’s a look at the rookie class and the roles they could nail down:

A.J. Terrell, left cornerback. The Falcons had a hole in the defense after not re-signing Desmond Trufant.

Terrell, who’s been the talk of training camp, is slated to start.

Marlon Davidson, defensive tackle. He was showing promise before he suffered the injury.

“We really like what we see so far,” Dimitroff said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “He’s a big dude who can move around well. He’s high energy. It’s what we are looking for in that defensive line rotation.”

He’s missed a week, but is close to returning.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons rookie defensive lineman Marlon Davidson discusses his first padded practice as a professional.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Matt Hennessy, left guard. Hennessy has been rotating with Carpenter with the first-team offense. He has remained humbled.

“Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll be ready to roll,” Hennessy said. “In terms of whatever role I need to fill, I’m going to do that to help us win. I don’t know what that will look like. I’m down to help the team, whatever that looks like.”

The Falcons have Hennessy working against Pro Bowl tackle Grady Jarrett in practice.

“Just really like as physically good as he is, some of things that he does in terms of instincts and reading plays is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Hennessy said. “So, I’ve learned a lot really quickly from that, which is cool. It’s been awesome.”

Hennessy expected the physical nature of the NFL to present a challenge, and he’s trying to make a smooth transition.

“I definitely thought the physical aspect was going to be, just in terms of the physical ability was going to be huge and it is,” Hennessy said. “Just the speed of the game, the strength of the opponents. The size and even more so than that, it’s really techniques and it’s really being sharp in that regard.”

Hennessy is focusing on using sound techniques, angles and leverage to control defenders.

“You just have to trust your training and trust your techniques,” Hennessy said.

The Falcons have high hopes for Hennessy, who could slide over to center when Alex Mack retires.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that a guy like Matt Hennessy comes in … he’s very quick to snap and set,” Dimitroff said. “He has the ability, awareness and smarts to anchor in there. He continues to learn where he’s going to be with his pass protection. He’s got a very good chance to compete for that starting spot and win it. It’s going to be a really good competition there. ... We’re going to get the best player there, and he’s right in the mix.”

Coach Dan Quinn sees more work for Hennessy to do.

“There has been a lot of things that we’ve thrown at him, and he keeps responding and keeps answering the challenges,” Quinn said. “So, I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. We’ve got a lot of work to do with him, much like A.J. (Terrell) and Marlon (Davidson) and Matt – all of the guys.

“There are a lot of things that are happening for the first time and so it’s like, ‘OK, how do we adjust to that? How do we see him respond?’ But, he’s passed a lot of tests so far with still a good ways to go.”

Mykal Walker, linebacker. Walker, a fourth-round pick from Fresno State, received a lot of snaps with the first-team defense in the scrimmage Monday.

He was around the ball a lot in both of the scrimmages.

“I think the first thing when you see Mykal out on the field is the athleticism,” Quinn said. “He’s a really tall and long guy. Matchups are some of the things that you think about when you see guys who have different skill sets.”

The Falcons have to find out if Walker can drop into zone coverage and if he can take on a running back or tight end in man-to-man coverage.

“Not everybody matches up well on each player, but a guy with his length and speed, he’s certainly somebody that you’re looking for tight ends how they match up with,” Quinn said. “So, certainly in our division there are some challenging ones to go against. So, that’s probably the trait that I have seen from him so far is the speed and the length.”

Walker will have to earn his way on special teams initially.

“He’s hitting a lot of marks along the way,” Quinn said. “We were talking about Matt Hennessy earlier, and some of those guys who we are going to count on to play early on, we have to keep putting them under the pressure to see how they respond, and by and large, they are answering the bell each time.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons rookie linebacker Mykal Walker on his play thus far in camp and how it feels to get some action with the first team.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Jaylinn Hawkins, safety. The Falcons are pretty deep at safety with Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee.

Hawkins will have trouble beating out the dependable Sharrod Neasman for the fourth spot. The Falcons could elect to carry five safeties.

“Those two guys are really working hard,” Dimitroff said of Walker and Hawkins. “Those guys have really worked hard in the offseason and showed a lot of focus and interesting maturity for young guys.”

Sterling Hofrichter, punter. He put on a clinic in the second scrimmage. He should stabilize the position after the team elected to move on from Matt Bosher.

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