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Rookie rising: How Mykal Walker has established himself early in training camp


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https://theathletic.com/2019738/2020/08/24/rookie-rising-how-mykal-walker-has-established-himself-early-in-training-camp/?source=emp_shared_article

 

In the months that followed their names being called in the 2020 NFL Draft, the rookies across the league went to work … remotely. The week training camp opened was the first chance any coach from across the league could get a live look at these new players. The story was no different for Falcons rookie linebacker Mykal Walker after he was picked in the fourth round by the Falcons.

He called learning on a computer screen night and day from actually being able to run around a football field. He realized that very early on, in fact, saying his “Aha” moment came the day he was given Julio Jones as an assignment.

The offense was running a play-action pass with Jones running to the corner. It was Walker’s job to be underneath Jones. Walker laughed. Even as he ran as fast as he could, Walker didn’t get to his spot.

“I was like, ‘OK. I have to rethink,’” Walker said with a small laugh. “Julio is a little faster than what you see on tape.”

But Jones’ explosiveness on that first day shouldn’t completely overshadow what Walker has been able to do since. He has intercepted a few tipped passes and as practices have gone on, Walker has worked his way up the depth chart. By Monday, he was running consistently in and out of the first-team rotation. At times, he was in with either Deion Jones or Foye Oluokun. Even as a rookie without a rookie camp or preseason game to make an impression, Walker is doing just fine.

When asked how he has started so quickly in his first training camp that should lend itself to a slower start from rookies considering the circumstances, Walker said the work he did with assistant head coach/linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich in all of those remote meetings this summer played a big part.

“For me to pick up plays, I just try to combine them as much as possible, and I think (Ulbrich) does the same thing,” Walker said. “I think he did a really good job of teaching me the scheme, and now I’m able to come out here and play fast.”

The linebacker’s journey to the Falcons is an interesting one. It started at Fresno State, where Walker was anything and everything the Bulldogs’ defense needed him to be. Thinking back on his Fresno State days, Walker laughed, saying contrary to what he has shown with the Falcons so far in camp, he was actually a 220-pound defensive lineman for the Bulldogs. But he never quite stayed in one role as he was the embodiment of a hybrid defender. He played standing up and with his hand on the ground, on the end of the line or in a more traditional linebacker role.

The Falcons want to see a more traditional role for Walker. That’s why he has been side-by-side Jones and Oluokun, a spot Walker said has been beneficial to him in recent weeks. On and off the field, he’s seeking out those two.

“I’ll go in for my four plays and come out, and the first thing I want to (do is) walk right over to them,” Walker said, mentioning Dante Fowler Jr. as someone he has leaned on for specific tidbits in the pass rush, as well.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the first thing you notice about Walker is his athleticism coupled with his length. The Falcons are taking an extensive look into just how they can capitalize on those two things in specific matchups down the road.

“So, sometimes as a defensive player, whether it’s a linebacker or a safety, who can they guard? Who can they match up on?” Quinn said. “Not everybody matches up well on each player, but a guy with (Walker’s) length and speed, he’s certainly somebody that you’re looking for with tight ends, how they match up with him.”

Quinn put Walker and fellow rookie Matt Hennessy in the same conversation, saying the linebacker and left guard are under quite a bit of pressure in camp. Along with cornerback A.J. Terrell, their transition into the league needs an acceleration button because of how important it is for the coaching staff to get them ready. They are going to be counted on to play early, Quinn said, and that means they have to be ready, which subsequently means the pressure is on to get them there.

Walker commented on the challenges rookies are facing this year. He noted that, yes there are fewer opportunities to stand out, but he also said that he’s looking at it as just that … a challenge.

“The challenge is on,” he said, “and I just take on the challenge. It’s never been about proving people wrong. It’s about proving myself right.”

Practice observations and notes

• The secondary continues to get after it. Matt Schaub threw two interceptions Monday, one by rookie Delrick Abrams and the other by Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Early in practice, Isaiah Oliver had a pass from Matt Ryan hit him right in the chest but couldn’t hang for another one. Kendall Sheffield, Terrell and Keanu Neal all flashed at times during the scrimmage with Neal doing some good things in response to the offense’s run game.

• Jamon Brown was back at practice after going into concussion protocol last week and worked sparingly with the second team. Marlon Davidson is still out, and Quinn said Sunday Davidson likely will be out for a few more days with a knee strain.

• Hennessy continued to take the majority of the first-team reps at left guard, and he seems to be settling in nicely between Alex Mack and Jake Matthews.

• The Falcons are trying out a bunch of different combinations on the defensive line. Of course, there are the shoo-ins like Grady Jarrett and Fowler, but there was a steady rotation of defensive linemen suiting up to go against the first-team offense. Takk McKinley and Tyeler Davison made the most rounds with that first team, alongside Jarrett and Fowler, but players like Steven Means, Allen Bailey and John Cominsky also took significant snaps there. Quinn praised Cominsky earlier in the morning saying, “From the first practice with pads all the way up through (Monday), he has seemed like somebody that’s taking that jump” from Year 1 to Year 2.

• The special teams were on a much fuller display Monday with everyone getting to see a bit more from kicker Younghoe Koo, who was 2-for-3 in field goals between 35 and 40 yards, and punter Sterling Hofrichter, who looked reliable in his handful of punts during the scrimmage with nice hang time and distance on a majority of the punt. Quinn said for Hofrichter, in particular, the next few weeks will be about putting him in different punting situations that he will face (timing, distance, where on the field he’s punting from, etc.), but Quinn said he has been pleased with the seventh-round pick so far. Brandon Powell and Chris Rowland continued to be the go-to players for punt returns, but Quinn did say before practice that Olamide Zaccheaus and Ito Smith will get reps in the future.

 

 

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Every report I've seen that mentions Fowler makes me think his impact on this defense is going to far surpass that of any other defensive FA we've had in years. Not the individual impact necessarily, but on the team as a whole. Seems like the leader on the DL we've been missing.

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17 hours ago, Francis York Morgan said:

Every report I've seen that mentions Fowler makes me think his impact on this defense is going to far surpass that of any other defensive FA we've had in years. Not the individual impact necessarily, but on the team as a whole. Seems like the leader on the DL we've been missing.

Was going to say the same thing. Seems like everybody on the front 7 that's new is looking to him for leadership. 

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3 hours ago, 1989Fan said:

This guy has seemed to cool off some in camp. Anyone hear anything on Walker recently? He was getting mad hype in the early going of camps.

Maybe after getting some hype early, people expect him to make the plays he is still making. Maybe he's just fitting in now, they are thinking of him as a starter. That's of course unless he makes a truly standout play, then it will get mentioned.

Or it could be like you said, that he has cooled off. I'm hoping that he hasn't.

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9 minutes ago, Boise Falcon Fan said:

Maybe after getting some hype early, people expect him to make the plays he is still making. Maybe he's just fitting in now, they are thinking of him as a starter. That's of course unless he makes a truly standout play, then it will get mentioned.

Or it could be like you said, that he has cooled off. I'm hoping that he hasn't.

Good point, I guess I should have said the reporting around him has cooled off. Still hearing about some others though like Oliver, Cominsky, Gage, Hill, etc.

hoping that he is still impressing...did hear coach comment on Foye recently when talking LBs 

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