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Bair Mail: On Bijan Robinson, Matthew Bergeron and how Falcons can compete in NFC South

Atlanta should have a chance to win the division for the first time since 2016, but they have a lot to prove

We've got a full week of OTAs under our belt as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. So, for the first time, we've seen all the Falcons' new faces actually practice in red and black.

It's the very beginning of this team coming together, and we're seeing clear talent on the field. We're also seeing that this team is in the learning phase, working on the mental side of the game as incumbents learn to work with new guys at every level on both sides of the ball.


That's why this seemed like a good time for a Bair Mail, because I have actual on-field observations to convey. So let's get to your questions about what's going on up in Flowery Branch:

Ben Laub from Somerville, N.J.

I haven't seen any footage of Bijan at practices. Is he attending?


Mac Dills from Talahassee, Fla.

What are your thoughts on how much Bijan Robinson will be incorporated into the passing game? I know we have a stable of running backs at this point but I wonder if the team works to develop Bijan into a pass catcher out of the backfield to give Ridder yet another option if/when he gets in trouble with an opposing pass rush. Thoughts?

Bair: Bijan Robinson is here and working hard with the Falcons during Phase III of the team's offseason program. It's tough to get a solid evaluation of rushers during training sessions without contact, but you can tell he's elusive due to excellent balance. That trait probably stands out the most when watching Robinson work. He's also a quality route runner who has been effective in 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 drills.

He's also learning on the fly, as any rookie would at this point in his professional career. He's making mistakes and trying to learn from them. He's proving to be an all-around, and it will be interesting to see how Arthur Smith uses him in regular-season games. Right now, though, Robinson is focused on learning the scheme, making progress and being technically sound enough to maximize great talent.

To answer Mac Dills' question, I think Robinson will be heavily involved in the passing game coming out of the backfield, going in motion and lining up from more standard receiving positions. That's something Smith can do, considering the volume or talent running backs and tight ends. Again, it will be fascinating to see what Smith can come up with in his play designs.

Grouch Douglas from Hapeville, Ga.

Bair! Fist time writing in. I'm hearing rave reviews on Bergeron. What are you hearing? Seeing?

Bair: Appreciate you writing in. Always enjoy first-time contributors. I cut off some other questions you asked cause it was too much to answer in one response, but I think your inquiry about second-round offensive lineman Matt Bergeron is a good one.

I also think he's a unique case study because he's a rookie actively changing positions. That means we have to look for more subtle signs of progress because, look, he's going to make some mistakes this spring.

First off, he passes the look test. The dude is built like a brick house. He's built like an NFL player. He'll have no problem with the strength and size to play well at guard or, maybe in future seasons, at tackle.

I do think the Falcons are working to get him into better shape. There's football shape and then there's the in-shape required to work on the Falcons offensive line. That's a bit of a different level and you can see Bergeron putting in extra work after practice to condition himself.

I think he's going to be a good pro, but we have to give him time to acclimate. That's only fair. That's also why it's important that the Falcons have options at left guard, including Matt Hennessy. Even with Bergeron here, expect a ferocious training camp battle at left guard.

So those are my first impressions of Bergeron. Here's what head coach Arthur Smith had to say about Bergeron and his development on Wednesday:

"I think a lot of it is the mental. I mean, a lot of it is individual work. Again, with the way that we operate, the train keeps moving. So, we have our own development plan for each player in our program, but you've got to understand that he's a rookie. If you want to get ready to play on Sundays against the guys that line up and play, you've got to be able to keep up. A lot of times, that pace—guys think they're in great shape then they get around Chris [Lindstrom] and Jake [Matthews] and realize that there is another notch. That's for him and [Jovaughn] Gwyn—same thing. There is a lot thrown at them and then mentally it's a completely new offense.

"Whether you don't move positions on the offensive line, it's all going to be new to them. So, you go back to the communication—a lot of these blocks, it may be a technique thing that you're trying to add here or there, and it may be a little bit different. It's what you're calling that, it's like learning a new language. In those combinations—'hey I've worked with a tackle guard combination on the backside, what are we calling it'? There is a new language that needs to be learned. That's the one thing that does help, going back to Desmond [Ridder], the consistency of not having to learn a new language in the spring where you're not having to memorize the play because there are other things going on in our formations."

Jamie T from Wichita, Kan.

How far do you think the Falcons can go this season? Not just in the NFC South but with the roster upgrades can this team challenge for the NFC?

Bair: I think NFC will be wide open, but the division's still hard to predict because there's so much new. That creates questions. How will Bryce Young do as a rookie? Because Carolina has talent around him, Young's acclimation will be key. Will Derek Carr take the Saints to the next level? It's possible, considering how good that New Orleans defense might be. Can the Bucs get by in the post-Brady era?

We know the Falcons are better on paper. Can this team come together. Can Desmond Ridder level up and keep a talented offense on track?

See? So. Many Questions. I think the Falcons can compete in this division. I don't think a below .500 record will win it for a second straight season. The Falcons might have to increase their win total by three this season to claim a division they haven't won since the 2016 season.

Call for questions

Submit your questions right here for inclusion in next week's editions of Bair Mail.

Take a look at the 2023 Atlanta Falcons in action during OTA practice.

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