FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Rookie minicamp has come and gone, and with it was our first opportunity to see this rookie class in person. Sure, Scott and I have watched a ton of film on these guys, but seeing them work in the flesh - even if it's against air - was still an important part of this offseason.
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So, with this in mind, and with a few days since rookie minicamp concluded, let's discuss what stood out the most as we took in the Falcons 2023 draft class for the first time.
Tori: What stood out to me the most during rookie minicamp was seeing Matthew Bergeron in action. I don't mean simply in action at left guard, where he took the majority of his "snaps," but in general. He was built differently than I thought he was.
When you see a guy who weighs upwards of 320 pounds coming out of college, you're thinking that he's going to look differently. At least I did. I didn't expect Bergeron to have the length he did, nor did I expect his athleticism and agility to be as evident as it was. Even when he was warming up and stretching his flexibility was hard to miss. I didn't think a 320-ish-pound man could kick his leg up as high as Bergeron did (lol). But I digress...
Bergeron played tackle exclusively in college, so when the Falcons drafted him and said they planned to move him inside to guard, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith were asked what they saw in Bergeron to feel he could make that move. Smith said it was the way Bergeron was built. Smith likened Bergeron to Rodger Saffold, who Smith coached at Tennessee at the end of Saffold's career.
Saffold was originally drafted to be a tackle in the league, but he made a pretty solid career for himself at guard. Smith sees a little bit of Saffold in Bergeron.
"I'm not saying Matt is Rodg, but they're similar body types, similar power, similar experiences with them," Smith said. "(They're) big, tough."
That build of which Smith referred to when Bergeron was drafted was obvious on the first day of rookie minicamp. It was obvious and hard for me to overlook.
Though there's a lot of work ahead to get Bergeron ready to potentially fight for the starting left guard spot come training camp, it's work I am really looking forward to seeing play out.
Bergeron is an intriguing talent, but - if I am being honest - his talent was one I wasn't completely sold on until I saw him in person. Now I am intrigued.
Scott: Zach Harrison is a massive human. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 274 pounds, with a frame that could probably handle more weight if it was required. He has a huge wingspan and is athletic as heck. That was clear watching him move around in non-padded practices. It was also evident that he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. That talent base is a good place to start from, giving Ryan Nielsen a foundation from which to develop talent. The new Falcons defensive coordinator is well known for helping players realize potential, which makes Harrison such an intriguing case study.
Most look at his Ohio State career and point out a lack of big time sack totals. That's accurate. He never had more than four with the Buckeyes. I would point, however, at his overall pressure numbers. Those were super high, leading the team as a matter of fact. The difference between creating pressure and taking a quarterback or ball carrier down for a loss is can be a matter of milliseconds, and Nielsen is the type of coach who can cut the time down and turn pressures into big-time plays.
I spoke with Harrison on Friday afternoon, and he said he wanted to show coaches that he's the hardest worker in the group. If that came across, there's a reason for optimism here, that maybe he can develop into a quality pro, especially if Calais Campbell can help show him the way. Harrison has the tools. He has potential. Now it's about making the most of his opportunity.
Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons rookies in action during the final day of the 2023 rookie minicamp.