FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After a day off, the Falcons were back on the field Tuesday afternoon for another training camp practice.
The extra rest seemed to energize the team, and there were several standout moments. We're still more than a week away from the Falcons' first preseason game against the Dolphins, but evaluations are very much underway.
Let's dive into the biggest takeaways and some nuggets of information from Tuesday morning's practice. 1. Sanu continues to stand out in a big way
Through the first five practices, Mohamed Sanu might just be the training camp MVP. He's made both the routine plays and the spectacular plays look effortless, which is something we've come to expect from another Falcons receiver.
"To me, Sanu is one who set it off in the spring," coach Dan Quinn said after practice. "He came back so fit for the OTAs in the spring, you could really see his intent was right and that really carried over into the summer. I singled him out this morning, as well. I thought that he's off to having a hell of a camp."
Sanu caught 59 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns in his first season with the Falcons, but he's playing like a receiver who can surpass those numbers in 2017. Keep in mind, there have only been five practices of training camp, and there remains a long way to go until the start of the season.
At this point, however, Sanu has been praised by teammates, including Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, for his work ethic and the energy he brings to the field. The veteran receiver isn't taking it easy this preseason. 2. McKinley given 'green light to go all-out'
One of the biggest storylines this offseason and entering training camp was the health status of Atlanta's first-round draft pick. Until now, Takkarist McKinley has been limited to individual drills. That changed Tuesday, when the pass rusher looked good going live in one-on-one drills against the offensive line and provided an update on his situation after practice.
"Coach gave me the green light today," McKinley said. "I put in so much effort once I had surgery on March 6, just over this past summer and the spring, to be where I'm at right now. For me, it was just getting 1 percent better every day. … Like I said, I got the green light. I'm just going out there whenever they put me out there to just go as hard as I can."
The rookie had an impressive moment during some pass-rushing drills where he flashed both strength and power to beat his man. Now that he's been given the all-clear, it's time to see what McKinley brings to this club.
To see McKinley's entire post-practice interview, click here. 3. Dan Quinn shares thoughts on right guard battle
Along the offensive line, the right guard position is the only one without an incumbent starter. This preseason, Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer are the primary contenders for the starting job, and fourth-round draft pick Sean Harlow is expected to see a bit of action as well.
Through the first segment on practices, there has been a good deal of rotation at the position. That is something that seems likely to continue based on coach Quinn's comments following Tuesday's session.
"I learned that we're not there yet," Quinn said. "We've got plenty of time to evaluate. Just when you think somebody is making a move, we're going to take it all the way through and make sure we're getting the pass-protection looks, the blitz looks, the matchups."
There is still a long way to go in the competition, and it's arguably the most important position battle of the preseason. It seems like Quinn is just waiting for someone to grab this job and pancake block it into the ground.
The entire interview with coach Quinn after Tuesday's practice can be found here. 4. Ishmael 'getting a good hold' of transition to linebacker
Versatility is a trait the Falcons value greatly, and it's one that's helped Ishmael transition from safety to linebacker this offseason. When injuries hit the Falcons' linebacker corps last season, Kemal Ishmael filled in and showed something to the coaching staff that gave them confidence he could handle the role permanently.
"Just how physical I play. The versatility I give and taking pride in going down in the nasty box and taking on blockers, hitting people; that's a big part of my game," Ishmael said when asked why the coaching staff felt he could make the transition. "Guys went down last year, and I stepped in – like we're supposed to do – and I played pretty well. I'll do anything for the team, so I'm with it."
Atlanta's linebacker corps has gotten younger and faster since Quinn's arrival. Whether Ishmael establishes himself as a starter or not, it's gotten deeper with him in the mix.
To watch Ishmael's post-practice interview, click here. 5. Rookie Riley making a good impression
Speaking of the linebacker corps getting younger and faster, Duke Riley is a player who literally represents that mindset. A former teammate of Deion Jones at LSU, Riley has incredible speed and is learning what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
"My communication has risen to a different level since the beginning of camp" Riley said after practice. "My situational awareness is one thing that I really want to improve upon. Just the down and distances, knowing what to expect on second-and-short, third-and-long, just stuff like that."
Awareness and knowing what to expect is something that will come with repetitions. Thus far, however, Riley has stood out to a few of his teammates at the position.
"Man, Duke has been awesome," Ishmael said. "He's been going for it. As a rookie, he's been going for it. That has a lot to do with the (linebacker) room and where he's at. We treat him like a vet, we treat him like a brother. He's been digging just like everybody else; he's been showing great signs." 6. Schaub happy to be back in Atlanta, explains Ryan's on-field attitude
Now on the back end of his NFL career, Matt Schaub is right back where it began. A third-round draft pick by the Falcons in the 2004 draft, Schaub expressed joy at returning to the organization last season.
"It's awesome to be back in this city, and with this organization," he said. "They gave me a chance back in '04 for my first three years to have an opportunity in this league to develop myself as a player. And to come back here and view this organization and this team from afar all these years and have a chance to be a part of it and work with Matt (Ryan) and be on this team is remarkable."
His relationship with Ryan, the league's reigning MVP, is an important one. The backup quarterback on any NFL squad must be capable of both pushing and working with a team's starter. Schaub can do just that, and he explained Ryan's leadership qualities.
"That's how he's been since I've been here," Schaub said when asked if Ryan has become more animated in practice. "I think that's an important trait and characteristic of this position. All the really really good ones and great ones show that quality. They're going to go out and do their job, but they're (also) going to demand it from every position." 7. A celebrity sighting at practice
A former world champion took in the team's training camp practice, as Georgia resident Evander Holyfield stopped by.
Holyfield mingled with the fans at the Falcons training facility and then spoke with the team and broke down the huddle at the end of the practice session.
8. Highlights: Hardy and Goodwin make sensational plays
The offensive and defensive plays of Tuesday's practice came courtesy of a pair of players who may be flying under the radar but have great potential moving forward.
Matched up against the team's top corner, Desmond Trufant, Hardy positioned himself well and then fully extended to make a diving catch during the team period. While all of the attention may be on Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel and Sanu, Hardy is a very good fourth receiver for this team.
Last year, Goodwin began a transition from receiver to cornerback. With more experience at the position under his belt, Goodwin showed off his great hands and made an impressive interception while colliding with receiver .