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Camp report: Why Mack Hollins' 'no free lunches' mindset defines competitive Falcons receiver corps

Expect an intense battle for final receiver spots on the 53-man roster

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga – There are more receivers worthy of roster spots than the Falcons likely have available. Such is the situation on a more competitive roster across the board.

While we could list a few roster locks for what could be five slots, but Mack Hollins wouldn't like that very much. That's not the mindset he instills in a position group where he's the senior member.

"Nobody has a spot (locked) in our room," Hollins said after Monday afternoon's practice. "That's our mindset that you compete every day. I'm not a starter. Drake isn't a starter. Scotty Miller isn't a starter. Every day is a competition where you have an opportunity to prove yourself. That's how we'll go all the way through the end of the season. Every week is an opportunity to take a spot."

Hollins summed the situation up well by using a phrase he often uses with his fellow receivers.

"I've been saying it since I got here," Hollins said. "There are no free lunches."

That's a mindset head coach Arthur Smith appreciated. There are no No. 1, 2 or 3 receivers. There's no entitlement created by draft status or contract size. Go earn it. Prove you can be a top guy.

"Nothing is set in stone," Hollins said. "Every day is a workday. Every day is a competition. That's the message that has been in our room and that's the message that will stay in this room."

Hollins knows all too well about the stress of securing a roster spot. He earned his time and again as a core special teams player and down-on-the-depth-chart receiver. That was the case until his big 2022 with the Raiders. Special teams are everything for those guys, and that's certainly the case for Penny Hart and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Zay Malone, guys who are battling for what might be just one available job on the active roster.

We've seen each of those guys make positive contributions and have moments in the sun, meaning Smith and GM Terry Fontenot have some tough choices to make with roster cuts.

"They're trying to showcase their talents every day and you love seeing one of your brothers do well and help the team in a big moment," Drake London said. "To see them succeed and shine is everything."

Godwin charging hard: Running back Godwin Igwebuike is having himself a solid preseason. The in-camp signing has made a strong impression since joining the team, with consecutive quality performances in the preseason. He as 27 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown over those contests using an aggressive, physical rushing style that has been effective to this point.

While it has been important to show well in games, Igwebuike's roster push starts when fewer people are watching.

"It's about what you do in practice," Igwebuike said. "You need to earn the coaches' trust and show them that I know exactly what I'm doing whether I have the ball in my hands or not. Whether I'm blocking or running a route or carrying the ball, I want to do it right and be effective. If you can do that, then the talent will show."

Darby reaches injury settlement: The Falcons reached an injury settlement with receiver Frank Darby, the team announced on Monday afternoon, which allows the Arizona State product to be a free agent.

Darby was waived-injured last week and reverted to season-ending injured reserve after clearing waivers. The Falcons could re-sign after a set number of weeks, assuming he doesn't land somewhere else first. Darby got hurt early in the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Mix and match: We saw lots of movement between units during Monday's practice in pads, with some reserves allowed to work with top units. Zay Malone, for example, saw some work as a slot receiver with the first unit. Nate Landman worked a ton at middle linebacker alongside Troy Andersen as well.

Roll call: WR KhaDarel Hodge (ankle) and WR Penny Hart (concussion) continued to miss practice, as expected, after suffering injuries in the preseason tie with Cincinnati. RB Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Mike Hughes and Jeff Okudah (ankle) were out and are expected to be so through the preseason. CB Cornell Armstrong has also missed some time with injury as well.

Head coach Arthur Smith said that DL LaCale London got overheated and went inside before practice ended. Landman pulled up injured late in Monday's workout. Smith said that the inside linebacker got hit in the groin.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals during Preseason Week 2.

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