FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons hadn't even been out on the field for 30 minutes on Friday morning when left guard Matt Hennessy made his way back to the locker room. Hennessy has been the Falcons primary left guard since OTAs, even after the organization drafted Matthew Bergeron in the second round.
On the first day of training camp on Wednesday, Arthur Smith said the Falcons were going to give Hennessy the first crack at starting left guard, a position that has been a revolving door for a few years. After losing the starting center job to Drew Dalman last year, the Falcons saw fit to move Hennessy to guard for depth purposes. That depth played a significant role in 2022 as the Falcons were forced (because of injuries) to play four different players at the position.
So, Hennessy being used as the primary starter at left guard in 2023, sandwiched between Jake Matthews and Dalman, made sense. Hennessy was missed on Friday, though.
During the Falcons first walk through of the day, Hennessy went down. He got up, but immediately made his way to the locker room.
- Camp report No. 2: Clark Phillips III makes a splash
- 'I want to be more of a factor': How Richie Grant plans to elevate his game
- Finding Falcons rookie series: Bijan Robinson | Matthew Bergeron | Zach Harrison | Clark Phillips III | DeMarcco Hellams | Jovaughn Gwyn
- Bair: Falcons will be fascinating to watch as Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith era enters second phase
Asked about it after practice, Arthur Smith said the issue stems from an injury he was dealing with last year. After starting the Falcons Week 9 game at left guard, Hennessy left said game with a knee injury. He was put on injured reserve a couple days later and missed the next six games. He returned for the final two games of the season and started both at left guard.
Filling in for Hennessy after he departed the field on Wednesday was Bergeron.
The Falcons drafted Bergeron with the No. 38 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft with the intention to move him to guard. He began that work immediately upon his arrival to Atlanta for rookie minicamp in May. It's where he's continued to work through OTAs and, now, training camp.
He has been working with the second team, but got his shot with the first team after Hennessy went to the locker room. In terms of evaluations to have, it's difficult to nail down. Majority of what you're seeing at this point in the preseason is a glorified walk-through. The pads are not on, and the linemen can't go 100 percent. So, to give a signal as to how Bergeron is progressing would be a bit unfair.
After practice, Chris Lindstrom was asked about Bergeron's development and how the veterans around him can help him along, considering he has never played left guard prior to the reps he's taken with the Falcons. Lindstrom said it's all about giving him the right feedback, as well as letting him make mistakes in order to learn from them.
"There are all types of small things that come up to help him with," Lindstrom said. "You may have a rule but applying it on the field may involve elements that you only learn with experience. You talk with him about how we want to execute and how we want to fit it between him and the center or him and the tackle and try to work through it."
Lindstrom concluded by saying he believes Bergeron has done a "great job of keeping an open mindset."
In the meantime, Hennessy will undergo an MRI, Smith confirmed after practice. Smith added he will hopefully have more information on Saturday regarding Hennessy's status. If serious, Bergeron's development may have to be accelerated.
Notes, observations from practice
Roll call: Cordarrelle Patterson was not at practice on Friday, with Arthur Smith confirming it was a veteran rest day for the running back/receiver/return man. DL Ikenna Enechukwu was also absent. Smith said Enechukwu has tendinitis and is day-to-day.
Smith also had an update on DL Eddie Goldman, who has missed all three practices of training camp. Goldman signed a one-year deal with the Falcons last year before deciding to retire before the season started. The Falcons announced at the beginning of the 2023 season that Goldman was making a comeback to the league, coming out of retirement to play with the Falcons.
However, Goldman never attended any of the Falcons OTAs in June nor was he present for mandatory minicamp. Smith said while he did report to training camp when everyone else did (with Smith commenting that he looked the part), he hasn't practice since, with Smith saying he's dealing with a personal matter. Asked about Goldman's status on Friday, Smith said there is a possibility that Goldman retires, again. He'll have more information on a potential transaction later.
Play of the day: This section is dedicated to Bijan Robinson and the best catch we've seen throughout camp so far. At the beginning of practice, pass catchers and defenders went up against each other one-on-one. With Troy Andersen opposite Robinson, it was speed vs. speed. Andersen may have broken up Robinson's pass on Thursday, but Friday was Robinson's turn to shine.
With a quick shifting of his feet, Robinson got Andersen off balance long enough to find separation as he flew down the sideline, Andersen on his heels. The pass was a bit overthrown, and Robinson had to shift into another gear. Doing so, the ball hit his outstretched arms before tipping up again. In stride, Robinson gave chase, able to gain control in time to get two feet down in the end zone. It was a moment every fan in attendance was excited to see from the Falcons newest first-round pick.
Recovering: During the Falcons red zone period in the final minutes of practice, the offense capitalized on a defensive miscue before the defense gave it right back to them. With Jeff Okudah in coverage, he split off his man to cover the middle of the field only to leave said man wide open in the end zone. After a few words with Falcons assistant head coach Jerry Gray, Okudah got back in position, ready for the next play. On that play, Okudah stayed body-to-body with his man, so much so that when the ball tipped off the receiver's hands, he was there to come down with the interception. It was a moment that saw Okudah make adjustments in real time, from one play to the next.
Speaking of the secondary: Arthur Smith had high praise for the secondary and the way they've look through the first three days of camp. He said from top to bottom, he's been pleased with what each individual has brought to the group.
"I love what's going on back there," Smith said. "... You can feel their presence."
Asked about a group that includes the likes of Jessie Bates III, A.J. Terrell, Okudah and Richie Grant, defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said it all goes back to Gray and secondary coach Steve Jackson. He noted that among the position groups, he's been most pleased with the way the secondary has honed in on their fundamentals and techniques. That goes back to the teachings of Gray and Jackson, he said.
Two people who I've been really impressed with so far through three days of camp is rookie defensive back Clark Phillips III (who we wrote about yesterday) and Tre Flowers. Phillips had a few PBUs on Friday, while Flowers' length continues to stand out the more I watch him play. He's long and able to cause receivers problems, rotating in after Terrell and Okudah at outside corner. Even Smith commented on that length, saying you can "feel his size" when he's on the field. With Phillips, his grit stands out. With Flowers, it's his build. They're two under-the-radar defensive backs I have been keen on early in camp.
A play we can live with: Early in practice, during 7-on-7, Desmond Ridder stepped back and launched the ball downfield towards Drake London racing towards the end zone. The ball fell incomplete, and the easier throw could have been to Kyle Pitts, who was underneath, virtually uncovered at the time. To fans looking on, the throw to London could have been considered a mistake by Ridder, but not to Smith.
The head coach went to Ridder's defense for making that choice. If you're going to make a decision like that, now is the time to do so.
"I think that's what I appreciate about Des," Smith said. "He's not afraid to take a shot and work on it."
Smith has always said he doesn't want soft souls on his teams. So, it goes without saying he likes seeing this mindset from his QB1.
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.