Minicamp ended for the Falcons on Thursday, and players, coaches and staff have about a month away from the facility in Flowery Branch before training camp begins.
Here are 10 things we learned from minicamp, which provide storylines to follow in the weeks ahead of the first training-camp practice July 22.
Julio Jones happy with situation
Though he didn’t practice all three days, wide receiver Julio Jones said he will be ready for the season and is happy with his place on the team. Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he and the Falcons are continuing to work on a long-term contract. Jones, who’s also nursing a foot injury, is scheduled to be the 13th highest paid receiver in the league in 2019, according to NFL stats. Tampa Bay’s Michael Evans ($20 million) is set to be highest paid, while Jones is at $13.4 million. The six-time Pro Bowler took more of a leadership role this minicamp, acting as a coach on the field and mentoring younger receivers during and after drills.
Former Georgia Tech and Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson was in attendance for practice today, as coach Dan Quinn invited him in hopes of providing inspiration for the team’s younger players.
Vic Beasley feels “no pressure” heading into contract year
Even if his production has slipped, Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley said he doesn’t feel intimidated heading into an important season — both financially and on the field. The 2015 first-round pick skipped all team offseason programs after the Falcons picked up the $12.8 million fifth-year option on his contract instead of offering a longer-term deal.
Beasley, who compiled 15.5 sacks in 2016, has had only 10 sacks in the previous two seasons combined. Quinn said his project over the season is to help Beasley develop more moves off the line of scrimmage, so Beasley has different ways to get to the passer.
Jarrett doesn’t participate amid contract disputes
After skipping OTAs, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett reported for minicamp, but wore a hat instead of a helmet for all three days. Jarrett, too, skipped OTAs while he and the Falcons work out a long-term deal. The Falcons placed the franchise tag on the former Clemson Tiger in March and will pay him $15.2 million this season. On Tuesday, Jarrett deflected all questions from the media regarding his contract to the media. Heading into training camp, it’s possible Grady may continue not to participate if a long-term deal isn’t reached.
Matt Ryan continuing to push himself
Matt Ryan has a problem every player in the league would dream of: How do you get better when you are already one of the best? The Falcons quarterback said he will continue to work on his strength and flexibility this season, and has enlisted professional help to do so. He also plans to organize a players-only camp to help the team create bonds together without coaches present.
Veteran defensive backfield to be ready for season, Quinn says
Non-starters got valuable reps in the defensive backfield as veterans took limited or no reps all camp. Cornerback Desmond Trufant was excused all week for personal reasons, and free safety Ricardo Allen is still recovering from an Achilles injury. Stong safety Keanu Neal practiced in a limited role as he continues to recover from ACL surgery. Quinn said all three should be ready to play when the season starts.
Led by Devonta Freeman, Falcons’ running backs look to improve in 2019
Quinn expressed his appreciation for the way Devonta Freeman entered minicamp, especially after the running back endured a two-season stretch where he missed 16 games. The head coach said Freeman is a “multiplier” -- meaning the energy he brings to the game spreads throughout the entire team.
“We anticipate he'll make decisions (for his body), you know, when he can. But at the end of the day, he also is, you know, a significant contributor and has a real style about how he plays,” Quinn said of Freeman. “That's not going to change so much.”
Freeman will lead a running back unit consisting of Ito Smith and rookie Qadree Ollison, among others.
The unit looks to improve from its 2018 campaign, where the Falcons ranked No. 27 in rushing offense in the NFL according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Falcons averaged 98.3 yards per game on the ground.
New faces on line creating competition
The Falcons’ offensive line is creating opportunities at several sports along the front five.
The only sure starters are center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews. The rest? To be determined, but rookies Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary are making a case, along with James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, both of whom the Falcons signed in the offseason.
Deion Jones recovering and hopeful for a healthy 2019
Linebacker Deion Jones is still rehabbing from surgery on his foot, an injury he suffered during the 2018 season and he didn’t take part in activities during minicamp.
However, he was present and offered coaching to the other linebackers.
“It’s been good,” Jones said Wednesday of his rehab. “Just working hard, day-in and day-out to get back where I needed to be.”
The fourth-year linebacker believes the defense will have a “chip on its shoulder” in 2019, mainly to prove how good it can be at full strength.
Giorgio Tavecchio takes over for Matt Bryant
Third-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio will enter his second season with the Falcons and take over for longtime Falcons kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant leaves the team after the Falcons declined his team option in February.
Tavecchio impressed in the small window as the Falcons’ kicker in 2018, going 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts of distances 50 yards or longer. He’ll be relied on heavily this upcoming season.
Quinn’s overall impression
Quinn concluded the third day of Falcons minicamp discussing the two separate forms of growth he wanted to see. One was on the football field, and the other was with leadership.
On Thursday, Julio Jones, Deion Jones and Jarrett were seen at practice not participating but helping coach players in their respective position groups, something Quinn said was by design.
As far as a scale for those two qualities goes, Quinn explained he thought it was fair to say the team started at average, and this week the scale moved up a bit.
“We'll have to move it again and move it again and you'll keep improving as we go,” Quinn said.