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Camp Report: Falcons VP of player personnel Kyle Smith talks 'churning the roster'

Plus a look at the segment of practice that set the tone for the day, as well as where the offensive line stands on Day 2. 

It's almost hard to believe that Anthony Rush was once a player who was just looking for a place to land at this time last year.

In 2021, Rush signed with Tennessee prior to the start of training camp. He was released at the end of September. When he hit the open market again, he came on the Falcons radar. In need of some bigger bodies along the defensive interior, Atlanta brought Rush in. 

Rush wasn't promoted to the active roster until early November, but his presence - all 350 pounds of it - made an impact. Against the Saints in Week 9, Arthur Smith called Rush an unsung hero of the game. In Jacksonville a few weeks later, Rush forced a fumble in the win. 


When the season was over, the Falcons couldn't part ways with Rush. They liked him playing alongside Grady Jarrett, so they signed him to a one-year deal so he could return.

Rush was a player the Falcons brought in off the streets in the middle of the season who panned out and immediately helped the defense. Now, he's working for a starting spot. 

He's a near perfect example of what the Falcons want to do as they churn the bottom part of the roster.

Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Anthony Rush #94 rushes the quarterback during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Sunday, December 19, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)

But what does this example of Rush mean for the Falcons right now during training camp? Quite a lot, actually.

Catching up with local media on Thursday, Falcons vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith said that at this point the front office is actively looking for players like Rush.

Not literally, of course. They're not looking for a carbon copy of Rush. They're looking for players that demonstrate the same thing Rush does, which is a plug-in that pans-out.

Smith said the front office has already divvied up the 31 other teams in the league to keep an eye on who's cut when.

Atlanta Falcons Vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith during AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday, July 28, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

This is the current task of the pro staff (and a few college personnel, too): Keeping an eye on every team in the league, and evaluating the players that may fall through the cracks.

"You're taking about all of the - what we call - bubble guys that may have a chance to get cut," Smith said. "We're evaluating them."

And that evaluation starts now, because even though training camp just began, cut-down dates always loom in the horizon.

On August 16, teams must trim the roster to 85 players. On August 30, they set the 53-man roster. For a team like the Falcons, though, the 53-man roster is an extremely fluid one.

Last season, Terry Fontenot was always candid about how often this Atlanta roster would change. This season, Smith echoed that same sentiment.

"We'll watch the preseason. We will evaluate those guys," Smith said, "and if there's opportunities for us to upgrade our roster we will."

Thinking back to the example of Rush, Smith said it's gratifying to find a player like that. It's what they're looking for, and what they hope to find.

"A guy that was cut somewhere else but could come in here and play pretty well for you," Smith said of what the Falcons want. "… That's why you turn over every stone as best you can."

Notes, observations from practice:

Setting the tone: In the first 10 minutes of practice, Arthur Smith called the entire team over to a far field to begin practice. Instead of huddling up, though, he had them line up. He pointed to different players, having them go one-on-one in front of everyone. A defensive lineman or edge rusher vs. an offensive lineman. A defensive back vs. a receiver. And on and on for five minutes they went, competing in their set skills against one another as teammates looked on. After practice, Grady Jarrett said it was the spark the Falcons needed to begin the second day of training camp. He said it set the tone for the rest of practice. 

Mario Kart connection: As you've probably heard or seen by now, Guardian Caps are mandatory for certain position groups to use throughout camp. They are large, black paddings over the top of players helmets that add an extra layer of protection for linemen, edge rushers, tight ends and linebackers. And when they wear them, they look... kinda funny. Here are some things they look like according to those around me during practice today: Dave Archer said they look like Chia Pets. Grady Jarrett said they look like they all have big, 70s-inspired afros. I personally see Toad from Mario Kart when I look at the players running around the field. Whatever you see, it probably makes sense, too.

Atlanta Falcons inside linebacker Mykal Walker #3 during AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Offensive line switch up: As Arthur Smith stated on the first day of practice, the Falcons are going to be heavily rotating Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman at center. Yesterday, Dalman ran with the first team. Today, it was Hennessy. Along with that change came another. Elijah Wilkinson - who the Falcons picked up in free agency - took majority of the starting left guard reps. Jalen Mayfield ran with the second team. The various combinations of offensive linemen the Falcons run out there during the early days of training camp will be important to take note of as practice continues.

Safety rotation coming along: Almost every time you look out at the field, you'll see Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant side-by-side, whether on the field or on the sideline. In the early days of camp, it's this duo working with the first team defense at safety. Both are on the younger side. Hawkins in his third year, but he's only started four games. Grant is in his second year, and played a heavy rotational role last year. This duo is the future of the position, and it may be that this future has arrived. As for the second team, veterans Erik Harris and Dean Marlowe rotated in. At nickel, Mike Ford and Isaiah Oliver (who was doing some light 11-on-11 work on Thursday) were the primary men inside.


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