After the very first day of training camp on Wednesday, Arnold Ebiketie was candid about where he feels like he was coming into his very first professional practice.
"I think the more I go, the better I will become over time," the Falcons second round draft pick said.
After Friday's practice, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino doubled down on this note saying the young edge rushers - Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone, particularly - are coming along, but they've got a long road ahead of them.
And that's OK.
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If you take a look at the Falcons outside linebacker position you'll notice fairly quickly how young it is. Ebiketie and Malone are three practices into their rookie year. Ade Ogundeji is only in his second season after slotting in rotationally last year. If you're looking for a veteran, that's Lorenzo Carter. Even Quinton Bell is a second year player.
And there you have it: Your Falcons outside linebacker core. It's because of this youth and inexperience in the league that everyone should take a deep breath before jumping to any conclusions about the position group.
It goes without saying that the Falcons have to - need to - improve their pass rush. However, this may require some patience. It's not something that is going to change overnight. It's not something that's going to change after one training camp. It may not even be an obvious change after a whole season.
The answer to the pass rush conundrum will not come in quick fashion because this defensive staff still has a number of questions to answer regarding their young edge rushers. This process and transformation, Monachino confirmed, is going to take a lot of work. It'll also take a bit of trial and error.
"Throughout the season it's going to be about what roles can we find for them to get them that real experience over the course of a game," Monachino explained. "You never know what those are going to be. We're a long ways away from making those decisions."
Ultimately, they're going to be trying a lot of different things to see what fits certain guys. Sometimes they'll hit dead center. Other times the dart won't even hit the board. But when it comes to figuring that out for these guys, the process is just beginning.
"We have a long way to go because we have a lot of defense to put in," Monachino said. "We have plenty of chances to find something for them to do that's special."
Right now, Monachino said Ebiketie and Malone's vision is beginning to expand. They recognize more pre-snap. They understand where they fit within the structure of the defense. It's fun to watch them grow, but no, Monachino said, "They're not there yet."
But again (with emphasis): That's OK. We're three days into camp. What Ebiketie and Malone are now is not what they'll be at the end of camp, in Week 1 or at the end of the 2022 season.
When it comes to the perspective of the position group it's important to know this is a work-in-progress situation.
"They're all in the process of becoming something," Monachino said, "and those two young guys have enough natural gifts that once they get all those other boxes checked those gifts will start to take over."
Notes, observations from practice:
7-on-7 finesse: In a fan-favorite drill, receivers and defensive backs lined up one-on-one, taking turns getting a bit of the glory that comes with a good play made when all eyes are on you. My three favorite: Drake London making a move toward the sideline against Casey Hayward to allow separation for an easy catch. It was a real look at some good-on-good action for the rookie receiver. Bryan Edwards had one of the best catches of the day with Darren Hall in coverage, positioning his body perfectly to make a rather acrobatic catch that had Hall angrily walking to the sidelines afterwards. Then, Richie Grant had a nice breakup against Kyle Pitts deep. Grant had a pretty solid practice overall on Friday. He broke up a couple other passes in the 11-on-11 period later in the day, too.
The man has wheels: It was during one of the 11-on-11 periods when the Falcons defense had every man covered. Without an open receiver, Marcus Mariota tucked the ball under his arm and took off down the sideline. In that moment his speed was evident. It's interesting because I think people forget how fast Mariota actually is. On the first day of practice, one of my coworkers in the video department said simply, "I didn't realize how fast he is." Another of my coworkers said he overheard a Falcons defensive back note Mariota's speed after he took off on that play, saying something along the lines of: "Man! He can move!" It'll be very interesting to see what Arthur Smith can do with a mobile quarterback with that kind of speed. It definitely adds another layer to the offense that the Falcons didn't have before.
Tall guys stick together: I'll say this: It's always cool to see Drake London and Kyle Pitts on the field together. With their long frames, you can't miss them. When they're on the field together it feels as though you see the foundation of where this team is heading. That may sound dramatic but every time they run their routes and pass alongside one another on the field, it really feels that way.
Ridder, Ridder, Ridder: The rookie quarterback got a lot of reps on Friday. And by "a lot" I do mean a lot. He's running with the second and third team offense right now. This is by design, according to Arthur Smith.
"We're giving Des as many reps as we can throw at him," Smith said. "We're seeing if he can come back and continue to have more command of the huddle. We want to see how he handles struggles. Ultimately, can you handle failure? And, if you make a good play, can you stack them?"
This was also a big day for younger players overall, too. Smith said it was intentional to give those guys reps on Friday, which is why we were able to see more pairings like Troy Andersen lining up with Mykal Walker a few times at inside linebacker, as well as Ebiketie and Malone lining up together outside Grady Jarrett and Anthony Rush on the defensive line.
Punch out: As noted yesterday, Isaiah Oliver is slowly but surely working his rep load back up. The Falcons are not trying to rush him back, but are methodically tacking on more reps as the days of training camp continue. Oliver had more opportunities on Friday to get in on some full-team action, and a pretty solid play came out of it. Olamide Zaccheaus made a nice catch towards the end of practice but before he could get another foot down to complete the catch, Oliver punched the ball out. If Oliver picks up right where he left off last year the Falcons will be in a good spot at nickel.
Your daily offensive line update: Drew Dalman was back in the first team offensive lineup, as was Elijah Wilkinson. There were two false starts in the 11-on-11 period at the end of practice, both committed by the second/third team mix. The first one came from Feleipe Franks, who wasn't fully set after motioning to the right side of the protection. The other was by Jalen Mayfield, who was on the second-team offensive line. Both left the field to run and were replaced. Justin Shaffer came in for Mayfield at left guard.
As we welcomed fans back to training camp, we continued to bring the heat on the field. #RiseUp