What we’ve learned so far from Falcons training camp

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, center, talks with Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney, second from right, during training camp at the Falcons practice facility, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, center, talks with Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney, second from right, during training camp at the Falcons practice facility, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH – After seven practices – three in pads – the Falcons took a day off on Thursday.

They will return to the field on Friday and Saturday and then start aiming for the exhibition opener against the Lions at 6 p.m., Friday Aug. 12 at Ford Field.

“I’ll see what these guys do against Detroit,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “I’m excited about practicing against New York (Jets). Again, those are scripted practices, so it’s all relative.”

Here are eight things we learned thus far in training camp:

1. Injury report: The Falcons suffered one setback when defensive tackle Vincent Taylor ruptured his Achilles and will be out of the season. He was expected to compete for the starting nose tackle spot on defense.

Linebacker Deion Jones (shoulder surgery) is on the physically unable to perform list. “Trending in the right direction,” Smith said. “Don’t have a firm timetable, but I think he’s headed in the right direction.”

Fullback Keith Smith (knee) and cornerback Isaiah Oliver (knee) are working their way back from offseason surgeries.

“If we have anything major going on with a player like unfortunately with Vince, I’ll keep you guys updated,” Smith said. “We have guys on different programs. Overall, we’re in pretty good shape.”

2. Conversions coming along: Feleipe Franks, Avery Williams and Ryan Neuzil were switched to new positions.

Franks from quarterback to tight end. Williams from defensive back to running back and Neuzil from guard to center.

“Avery’s handling it really well,” Smith said. “Continue to be impressed by Feleipe, all of these guys – Neuzil…There are a lot of guys in our program that we feel good about, that have been around here for a year that we’re continuing to develop…The (exhibition) season will be big for those guys.”

3. Huntley update: Running back Caleb Huntley, who spent last season on the practice squad, is off to a strong start.

“Pleased with Caleb,” Smith said. “Continues to work. He’s grown a lot. I’m fired up to watch these guys compete in the (exhibition) season.”

4. Year Two leap: The Falcons are counting on several players from the 2021 rookie class to make major improvements this season. Safety Richie Grant, cornerback Darren Hall, outside linebacker Ade Ogundeji and defensive tackle Taquon Graham are off to good starts.

“I’ve been impressed with Darren and Richie,” Smith said. “Ade, quietly, continues to get better. He’s a solid football player. TQ Graham has been solid. That class, we’re expecting a Year 2 jump.”

All of the defenders played a lot as rookies last season.

“I think that experience – we threw them in the fire last year out of necessity in certain spots,” Smith said. “I just want to see that carry over. Very pleased with how Darren is playing. He’s playing with a lot of confidence, too.”

With Oliver coming back from knee surgery, Hall is getting a lot of work at nickel back with the first-team defense.

5. Line battles: Smith is not ready to anoint Elijah Wilkinson the starting left guard over Jalen Mayfield.

Wilkinson has worked with the first-team offense for six of the practices, while Mayfield had struggled in his one-on-one matchups.

Elijah’s playing pretty well,” Smith said. “There are certain things that Jalen needs to continue to do better. Once he does that, then we’ll see how it plays out.”

Wilkinson, who’s converting from tackle, has been with trying to block two-time Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett.

6. Shaffer update: Rooke Justin Shaffer is coming along.

“Shaffer comes out here and works,” Smith said. “Just continue to try to improve his fundamentals and techniques.”

7. Arms race: Quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder have taken all of the reps thus. Franks is set to get some reps, Smith said early on in camp.

Both have appeared composed and under control while they work out the timing issues in the passing game. It’s early, so you can’t read too much into missed throws or some dropped passes. The offense is usually behind early and with more work, those issues are normally eradicated.

“The way the quarterbacks – it’s all relative,” Smith said. “There are some days that if you’re not making a play or one side is just getting destroyed, yeah, you’re going to get after them. But there’s been a pretty healthy competition back and forth.”

8. McGary turning heads: Smith was asked about young pass rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone and made it a point to praise right tackle Kaleb McGary.

“I’ve got to give Kaleb credit … McGary,” Smith said. “He’s been solid, and you know Kaleb is a big man. When his technique is right, he’s a hard guy to get around.”

Then he got to the rookie pass rushers.

“I think they’re learning some stuff maybe they got away with in college where you can outrun some guys on the edge and Ted Monachino is a fantastic coach and he’s coached a lot of good players in all shapes and sizes,” Smith said. “It’s cool, we actually had Jarret Johnson out here today. He was here to visit (defensive coordinator) Dean (Pees) and Ted, and it’s cool having guys like that around too.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Norcross High and UGA player Lorenzo Carter talks about how the defense is performing during Falcons training camp.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

The Bow Tie Chronicles