The Falcons took training camp to the people Saturday, holding an open practice before an announced group of 27,000 curious souls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The roof was open for the majority of practice – until reports of possible threatening weather prompted a closure late – bright sunlight flooding the field for a good part of the day. And the mood of the team matched the setting.
“It’s always fun getting back in the stadium, especially after last year. It was a very strange year,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “For us to be able to have practice today, to have fans out there, to feel that energy, it feels great. We thoroughly enjoyed it as players.”
“I was pleased with a lot of the effort out there,” coach Arthur Smith said. “We got through it faster than I realized, that’s a credit to the guys. They were flying around.”
Five takeaways from the public viewing, the ninth practice of training camp, here six days in advance of the first exhibition game Friday:
Ryan adjusting to new voice in his ear: For the fifth time in his Falcons career, quarterback Matt Ryan is adjusting to the sound of a new offensive coordinator speaking into his helmet. Saturday was a first chance to get in synch with the tone of Smith’s play-calling tone with any type of crowd static in the background. And that was singled out as a real benefit of the day.
“It’s a different voice in your ear. When you’re on the field, it’s a very strange deal to have someone talking to you while you’re playing,” Ryan said. “You got to get used to their rhythm and cadence, how they speak. Sometimes it gets loud in there. Everyone’s tone is different, everyone’s pronunciation is different. You got to get used to those guys talking in your headset.”
Ryan said he and Smith had only one small communication issue Saturday. “All things considered that’s not too bad. I’ve screwed up play calls before, and I’ll probably screw up another one or two at some point in my career,” Ryan laughed.
The coach seems pleased with how he and his quarterback are bonding. “Like any relationship you got to work on it every day,” Smith said. “I’m pleased where we’re at. It’s very honest, so that part is going really well.”
The Falcons can kick: It appears there will be little need for a kicking competition in this training camp. Younghoe Kim lined up for five field-goal attempts Saturday between 32 and 53 yards – and made them all with yards to spare.
Be sure to write Smith’s preseason depth chart in pencil: The Falcons’ new head coach means it when he said, “To have true competition, if guys are playing well you got to give them a shot. Otherwise they feel like, ‘I played well and you never moved me up.’ We’re doing a lot of mix and matching that way.”
Case in point, the right guard position. Rookie Jalen Mayfield has been getting the bulk of work with the first team through the first week of camp, but Saturday it was Willie Beavers, a 27-year-old veteran off the practice squad, who was plugged in there.
“Not trying to take anything away from Jaylen, it’s rewarding Willie Beavers. We thought he has been playing really consistent, really good with his assignments. and we got to give him a shot over there.”
Another case in point: Notre Dame rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji working with extensively with the first-team defense as a rush end. “Everybody we put them up against, they’ve won the majority of the battles,” Smith said of Beavers and Ogundeji, explaining how they earned their prominent roles.
Keep an eye on the backup quarterback competition: Both AJ McCarron and Feleipe Franks – the two vying to back up Ryan – earned attaboys from Smith for the way they handled everything thrown at them Saturday.
“Watching AJ and Feleipe, that will be a fun competition. It will be fun to watch both those guys compete in the preseason,” Smith said.
Added Ryan, “You come into these things you just want a clean operation: Not a lot of penalties, or mental mistakes. Take care of the football, and make the plays you’re supposed to make. Feleipe and AJ did a really nice job with that today.”
Pitts puts up an overall good first impression inside the Benz: Let the record show that top draft pick Kyle Pitts dropped the first pass thrown his way inside his new home stadium. But then he more than made up for it with a handful of completions.
“I think he’ll be a great target for sure,” Ryan said. “He’s very athletic, he’s big, he’s long, he’s got the great wingspan. But the thing I’ve been most impressed with is his ability to want to learn, how humble he is and how much he wants to get better.”
About the Author