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Camp report: Why Arthur Smith says, 'This is the most fun I've had coaching'

Plus notes from practice, new addition to one-on-one drills, two linemen are carted off. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There's an energy about at the Falcons training camp facility these days. It's one you can't miss, and it's one head coach Arthur Smith is thoroughly enjoying.

"This is the most fun I've had coaching," Smith said after Wednesday's practice.

Asked after said practice if he can feel this sentiment from his head coach, wide receiver Mack Hollins said, oh yes, definitely.

"When a coach is jabbing at you, he's having fun," Hollins said (and yes, Smith loves a good jab).


Smith elaborated on this in his Wednesday press conference, too, saying it's a bit of everything all wrapped up together that leads him to feel the way he does two weeks into camp. It's the competition he sees on a daily basis. It's the optimism he feels about the pieces they've accumulated this offseason. It's his own outlook and expectations as to where the Falcons are. But more than anything, perhaps it's the team behind the team, too.

"You spend so much time together, and it's just the people," Smith explained. "It's not just the players that we have, it's everybody around the building. That's what you feel. It feels like - going into Year 3 - it feels like a real team up here in Flowery Branch. Everybody's going in the same direction."

That does - of course - include the team itself.

Prior to the start of practice on Wednesday, the third in pads for the Falcons, general manager Terry Fontenot said, "Competition is at an all-time high." It's an energy you feel when you're there. It's an energy the coaches and players radiate right now.

No games have been played, and no one is going 110 percent, but this time matters for the Falcons. Their current feelings are warranted, because this was a process that (as owner Arthur Blank alluded to on Tuesday) has been three years in the making. The work is far from over, some of the work hasn't even started, but Falcons decision-makers are pleased with the direction the organization is heading.


Notes, observations from practice:

Roll call: For the second day in a row, TE Jonnu Smith was not at practice. Asked about his absence along with OL Matt Hennessy, Arthur Smith said neither are dealing with anything long term. Hennessy is day-to-day, while the head coach expects Jonnu Smith back on the field when the Falcons go down to Miami for joint practices with the Dolphins next week. Calais Campbell remains on the NFI list, and Cordarrelle Patterson and Keith Smith were out on Wednesday with veteran rest days.

The toughest of two minutes: In one of the final 11-on-11 drills of practice, the Falcons had to cart two backup linemen off the practice field in back-to-back plays. OL Ethan Greenidge was carted off the field after his lower body got tangled up with other linemen. On the very next play, DL Ikenna Enechukwu had to be helped off the field by trainers. After dropping Greenidge off at the locker room entrance, the cart immediately returned to the field to pick up Enechukwu.

Greenidge's injury - if severe - is a tough pill to swallow as the case could have been made for Greenidge to make the initial 53-man roster for the Falcons come cut down day at the end of August. In fact, Scott Bair actually had him making the roster in our first 53-man roster projection on Sunday. Though I played devil's advocate in my own comments of the article, Scott's reasoning for keeping Greenidge was sound. Camp injuries don't care about sound reasoning, though.

Wide receivers pleading their case: Let's say for argument's sake that Drake London, Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller and KhaDarel Hodge are four locks on this 53-man roster come cuts. Let's also say the Falcons choose to carry five receivers on said roster. Who is No. 5? Well, there are a few names to keep in mind. Scott and I talked about Penny Hart already in our 53-man roster projection on Sunday, but he's not the only one fighting for a spot. Players like Frank Darby and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside are making the case for themselves, too.

Darby had a particularly eye-catching day on Wednesday, making an acrobatic grab in one-on-ones, a stand-out, physical performance in a special teams kick return drill, as well as a long touchdown catch in one of the final 11-on-11 periods. He showed a versatility and play-making ability on Wednesday that could help his case come cut downs.

"If you're not a starter, you better be able to back up in certain packages. So, that versatility is key, whether you're helping on fourth down or special teams or you're able to go in there to play at least two positions, three," Smith said. "Where Frank is, is he comfortable playing three positions? I thought he's had a pretty impressive camp so far, but we'll see how it plays out. I'm excited to see how he looks in the preseason."

Catching up with Arnold Ebiketie: I was able to chat with Ebiketie after practice, just so he could give me an update as to where he is in something we had spoken about before. Back in OTAs, Ebiketie said something he was really keen on doing prior to the start of training camp was to add a bit more bulk to his frame. Something he learned coming from college to the pros is that the NFL season is long, and you have to be in tip-top shape when training camp gets here in order to endure the season ahead.

Ebiketie was pleased to report that he's right where he set his goal to be, around 250 to 252. Ebiketie joked on Wednesday that on the first day of practice he could feel those couple extra pounds on his frame in the Georgia heat, but he's feeling much better now that the pads are on. Overall, he's pleased with the work he put in this offseason to be in a better position - physically and mentally, too - going into Year 2 than he did in his rookie year.

A new wrinkle in one-on-ones: For the first week of training camp, the one-on-one period to open practice competition had been restricted to that of matchups within the secondary, linebackers and pass catchers. On Wednesday, Arthur Smith got the big guys up front involved, with defensive linemen going up against offensive linemen in one-on-one, pass rush scenarios.

One of the most intriguing match ups highlighted DL David Onyemata vs. rookie left guard Matt Bergeron, who's still taking the first-team reps in Hennessy's absence. Though, Onyemata was able to get a good initial push, Bergeron held his ground well as he anchored to his spot, showcasing a strength that couldn't be overlooked. Bergeron may be raw, playing in a position he's never played before, but he's strong.

Another note, another rookie: I know Scott was singing DL Zach Harrison's praises in our last Falcons Final Whistle podcast, but I am starting to think it's warranted. If I was impressed by Harrison's size without the pads on, now that the pads are on, I can't help but be enthralled with what the Falcons have in him.

Obviously, size isn't everything, but it's been interesting to see Harrison line up against someone like TE John FitzPatrick in drills at the line of scrimmage. FitzPatrick is all of his 6-foot-7 frame, but Harrison still stands out. So much so that I almost question him being listed at 6-foot-6 on the official roster. These two young players - when going up against each other - are hard to miss, which makes them fun to watch.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.

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