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Nine Things From Rookie Minicamp: Day 3

Posted May 18, 2014

Falcons rookie minicamp concludes with a look at the standout "starr" after Jake Matthews, Devonta Freeman's vision abilities and why this group of rookies doesn't understand half-speed

1. Falcons Consoling WR White: Before we get into wrapping up rookie minicamp, Falcons head coach Mike Smith again spoke Sunday about the death of Roddy White's brother, Tyrone Moore Jr., during the weekend. Smith said he's spoken to White and he knows that he's spending this time with his teammates as he copes with his loss. "We're here to support him, and I know it's difficult for the entire White family," Smith said.

2. Starr Shining: It's not a surprise when a first-round selection comes into rookie minicamp and continues to earn the spotlight — and tackle Jake Matthews has done just that. It might come as a surprise, however, that the player stealing some of that spotlight is a seventh-rounder and the second-to-final selection of the 2014 NFL Draft. South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr, who the Falcons selected at No. 255 overall in last week's draft, stole a lot of attention during rookie minicamp this week for a few reasons. First, his long blonde locks coming out of the back of his helmet are hard to ignore. Beyond that, his motor doesn't stop. There is no half-speed in Starr, who saw ample time during the three-day minicamp working with what essentially is the first-team among rookies. Whether his hand was in the dirt or he was standing up, Starr showed impressive explosion off the ball and an amount of want-to. "Coming up from a small town, you're not handed anything and if you want something, you've got to be able to go out and get it. Taking a play off, going half speed, that's just not something we were taught," Starr said.

3. More From Starr: Starr cuts an imposing figure at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, but perhaps he's even more impressive when he's not upright. Working in at defensive end in certain defensive sets, Starr utilizes the four-point stance on the line, which stood out among his teammates. Starr says having both hands on the ground gives him much more explosion off the ball. "It gets a little bit more weight in the back of my hips and I get more torque coming out of my stance. It helps me get to that hip of the tackle a little bit quicker, close that space because it happens so fast. The quarterback's sitting there trying to get rid of it as fast as possible and I'm trying to get there as fast as possible," Starr said.

4. Rookies Are a Quiet Group: Smith tied up the end of the three-day minicamp with an assessment of how things went for the Falcons and one of the things he said stood out to him, other than the effort that the group of drafted and undrafted rookies, and tryout players, showed was just how quiet they were. He didn't mean it in a bad way, saying it was a product of just how focused they were during practices. "They understand the importance of coming out and competing every day. They've been fun to be around," Smith said.

5. Under-the-Radar Tight End?: The Falcons went through the 2014 NFL Draft without selecting a tight end, but they may have gotten a strong candidate to make the roster in undrafted free agent Jacob Pedersen, out of Wisconsin. Pedersen was coached by the Falcons at the Senior Bowl in January and while there were a couple of other tight ends that got better looks during that game, Pedersen seems to have the pedigree to make an impact. On the roster, the Falcons have a pass-catcher in second-year tight end Levine Toilolo and a solid blocker in newly-added veteran Bear Pascoe. Pedersen left Wisconsin as the top scorer at his position in school history, and his abilities in the passing game could get a strong look as the offseason goes on. "He is an athletic player. He's not a guy that you're going to line up down-in and down-out and play in-line, but he's a guy that you'll put in postion to be a move guy, change the strength of the formation. He's done some good things and he's what we anticipated he was going to be, working with him for that week at the Senior Bowl," Smith said.

6. Matthews Drawing Rave Reviews: The Falcons' first-round selection is impressive enough in the way he carries himself on the field. When he shows off the skills that earned him a top-10 selection in the NFL Draft, however, Matthews really opens some eyes. Starr has had his fill of seeing the No. 70 jersey across from him during minicamp, and while he held his own against the former Texas A&M standout, Matthews' abilities were more than evident. "You can tell that he's so patient and he's so confident and he's so relaxed and controlled. He has the strength, he has the speed, he has the footwork — he doesn't have anything to worry about. Mentally, I don't think I've seen him mess up once. He's got all the components to be a really, really great tackle," Starr said.

7. Freeman's Vision Stands Out: Rainy weather in Flowery Branch forced the Falcons rookies into the indoor facility Sunday, and while Smith said he doesn't like practicing on the Field Turf, he did get a look at how fast this group of rookies can be. No one showed that more Sunday than running back Devonta Freeman out of Florida State. The rookie back looked explosive on the turf, showing off his quick-thinking abilities and speed around the edge. His vision, however, was impressive as he darted in and out of lanes during team periods. "Devonta is a fast, quick guy. I think he has very good vision and he's able to stick his foot in the ground and transition it in a different direction," Smith said.

8. Spruill, Smallwood Handle Large Workload: Being the two main inside linebackers during rookie minicamp, Marquis Spruill and Yawin Smallwood had just a bit more responsibility in the sometimes overwhelming crash course that occurs over the three days. Having to understand the playbook on a deep level to make calls and identifications coming out of the huddle adds an extra layer of difficulty to what they were responsible for, but the two rookies seemed to handle it well. "It's a lot more information, " Spruill said. "It's like my brain was on overload, but it's great. It's fun. We get out here and we had three solid days of work. We're working on our installs every day — day and night, in meetings. Everything's going well, though."

9. No Slowdown in These Rookies: Matthews commented on the first day of rookie minicamp that this group of first-year players doesn't handle walkthroughs very well. Smith had to remind the rookies several times that walkthroughs are just that, but it was the one thing that just didn't hit home with this group after three days. "We don't know how to go through walkthroughs yet," Spruill said with a laugh. "It's a group of guys that's hungry. They just want a shot. They just want to live out their dream to play football in the National Football League."