Without preseason games the Falcons are relying on intra-squad scrimmages to get them prepared for the season, and they held their first one on Thursday, the third day of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
After splitting into their usual position units for the first half of practice, the Falcons' offensive and defensive units gathered on opposite sidelines for the scrimmage. Starters competed against starters, while the second- and third-strings groups were mixed in to compete against one another.
Overall, it was a strong showing for the defense. The starting defense did not give up any points and only ceded a handful of big plays – most of them coming courtesy of Julio Jones. The second- and third-team defense only gave up one big run that resulted in the only touchdown scored by either team.
For fans hoping that Atlanta's defense takes a step forward in 2020, and it will need to if the Falcons are to be serious playoff contenders, Thursday's scrimmage was a great start.
That's why turnovers are so important
Dan Quinn has always stressed the importance of having a defense that forces turnovers, and Thursday's scrimmage illustrated exactly why he feels that way.
During the final moments of the scrimmage, both defensive units forced turnovers to get off the field. Each offensive group gained possession in its own territory with just over one minute left in the first half and only one timeout. The starting group began marching downfield thanks to some precise passes from Matt Ryan, but their drive came to an end near the red zone after Calvin Ridley lost control of the ball while trying to cut upfield on a screen pass. Foye Oluokun was there to scoop up the loose ball, ending the threat and getting the defense off the field.
The second-team offense began in the same situation, but they couldn't manufacture much of a drive thanks to good play by the secondary. That strong defensive effort culminated in a tipped pass by Blidi Wreh-Wilson that rookie linebacker Mykal Walker intercepted. Walker has shown a knack for getting his hands on the ball thus far in camp, securing at least three interceptions.
In both two-minute-drill scenarios the defense not only prevented a touchdown, it prevented any points and gained possession back for Atlanta to potentially strike before the half. If those moments translate to the regular season, the Falcons will be in good shape.
Matt Hennessy gets run with the first-team offense
Perhaps the most notable observation for today's scrimmage was that rookie Matt Hennessy was playing left guard with the first-team offense. Previously, Hennessy had been working mostly with the second-team offense in practice while James Carpenter and Matt Gono were splitting reps with the starters.
While out there with the starters, Hennessy performed well. He held his own against players like Allen Bailey and Tyeler Davison, and the running backs had some big plays while running behind Hennessy.
As for Carpenter and Gono, they were both working with the second-team offense for much of the scrimmage – Carpenter playing left guard and Gono playing left tackle. It's worth noting, however, that Carpenter was with the first-team offense during the two-minute drill, while Hennessy was next to Gono with the second-team offense.
Big day for Brian Hill
Although it was the defense that shined during the scrimmage, Brian Hill was a notable standout on offense. He single-handedly led the second-team offense during their lone scoring drive, carrying the ball three straight times, including a goal-line touchdown run.
"I would say Brian came back in fantastic shape," Quinn said Thursday. "He is 100 percent a guy on a mission. You see his speed at practice, his ability to catch has certainly improved."
Hill bounced his first carry of the drive out to the left end of the offensive line and broke contain, racing down the sideline for a huge pickup. This run alone put the offense inside the 10-yard line, and his next carry took them down to the 1-yard line. From there, he punched the ball in, showcasing his vision and power.
The Falcons have a lot of depth at running back entering the fall, and players like Hill, Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison should each have roles on this offense. Hill has shown the ability in the past to break off some big runs, and Thursday was a reminder of how that can change a game.
More camp observations
Isaiah Oliver continues to perform well and was step-for-step down the left sideline with Calvin Ridley before breaking up a pass early in the scrimmage.
Younghoe Koo made his lone extra-point attempt during the scrimmage, but he missed a 48-yard field goal, his one field-goal attempt of the afternoon.
John Cominsky continues to show improvement as a run defender and was rotating in with the first-team defense at times during the scrimmage.
Kurt Benkert was mostly given some short throws on rollouts during the scrimmage, but he made a couple of downfield throws on the run after avoiding some pressure in the pocket.
The Falcons like the versatility and talent in their safety group.
Julio Jones doesn't show any signs of slowing down, and he was the most effective offensive player for either side on Thursday.
The Falcons had coaches standing in as refs during the scrimmage, and there were a lot of penalty flags thrown. Of course, now is the time for all of that to get corrected.
Quinn has said he wants the team to run more outside-zone plays and marry that to their play-action passing game, and that approach was on display a lot in the scrimmage.
(AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
Aug 15, 2020, 3:17 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Chris Lindstrom had to spend far too much of his rookie season imagining how he would prepare for a game.
The Atlanta Falcons' right guard is more than ready for a full season of reality.
Lindstrom, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft by Atlanta, broke his right foot in the Falcons' opening game at Minnesota. He missed the next 11 games.
''The whole time I was injured, I was preparing like I was playing the game every single week,'' Lindstrom said Saturday. ''I'd write down notes. This is what I want to do against this guy.''
It was a lost season for Lindstrom and the Falcons, who finished 7-9 despite closing the year with four consecutive wins after the rookie returned from the injury.
Lindstrom is eager to take advantage of the crucial experience gained in those four games as he prepares for his second season. He's had more time to develop chemistry with right tackle Kaleb McGary, another first-round pick last year.
The Falcons expect Lindstrom and McGary to provide long-term stability on the right side of the line. The team desperately needs improved play from the line.
Last year's line never achieved the continuity that had been planned. Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 48 times and missed a game for the first time since 2009 due to an ankle injury on one of the sacks.
The run-blocking also was a problem. The Falcons finished ahead of only two teams in rushing. The line must provide better protection for Ryan and better running lanes for their new lead rusher, Todd Gurley.
''We know we need to do better as a unit and we're being accountable for that and working toward it,'' Lindstrom said.
Left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack are fixtures on the line. Rookie Matt Hennessey, a third-round pick, could start at left guard.
The competition at left guard that could also include James Carpenter, Matt Gono and others. Coach Dan Quinn expects to see Lindstrom and McGary provide more consistent production on the right side of the line.
''No. 1, usually that's when you see a big push in terms of where a player can go to from rookie year into second year,'' Quinn said Wednesday. ''Often, that's the case with linemen - both offensive and defensive linemen. Physically, both are doing well.''
Linebacker Deion Jones said Lindstrom's final four games last season were impressive.
''The fact he was able to get back out there and feel his foot out and get the chance to get back after it the way he does,'' Jones said. ''He's fast, he's physical. He always wants to be perfect. He's always looking for edges in his game. With Kaleb, they've been growing together and figuring it out together and they've been awesome.''
NOTES: FB Keith Smith was activated from the team's reserve/COVID-19 list. ... Rookie CB A.J. Terrell, the first-round pick from Clemson, provided the highlight of Saturday's practice when he soared to intercept a pass from Ryan intended for Calvin Ridley. Jones said Terrell ''made a great play. That was awesome to see.''
I like his arm and running ability. I'm questioning his ability to read defenses. That means he either is gonna be a franchise quarterback OR a bust. I'm leaning toward franchise quarterback, but wouldn't be shocked if it didn't happen. There is no in between with him. Nobody talks about it but its there. He would have to fall to me in the draft.
I’m not a pile jumper, but I do agree that Vic didn’t always put football first.
I will say that there many things more important than football and That there are more than a few players from all sports that could learn how to conduct oneself as a man from Mr. Beasley.