Notes, observations from Day 1 of Falcons rookie minicamp

Bijan Robinson's Falcons debut, Zach Harrison and DeMarcco Hellams speak to the media, tryout players who stood out highlighted. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Let's get one thing straight before we dive into any notes or observations from the first day of rookie minicamp for the Falcons: Rookie minicamp is more about the mental aspect of preparing rookies for what's to come than it is about the physical aspects of camp.

Sure, they practice and yes, it's important for the Falcons staff to see them perform, but they're not going full speed, they don't have the pads on and they're playing against air. You're not going to get more than a look test this weekend.

"At least they all pass the look test," Arthur Smith said after practice.

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Rookie minicamp is more about building these players up mentally than physically. Can they take what they're learning and being taught in the classrooms and actively transfer it to the practice field? That's what you hone in on during this time.

"We're training them for the job that they're hired to do," Smith said.

With this grain of salt in mind, let's dive into a few notes and observations from rookie minicamp.

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Notes, observations from practice

ROLL CALL: To go along with the 12-man 2023 rookie class (six drafted guys and six UDFAs), the Falcons had 41 other players in attendance trying out. Some of the most notable names included QB Chase Brice, TE Cam Sutton and WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (more on the latter two later). The Falcons also had a group of eight 2022 practice squad players working out during rookie minicamp as well. Some names to recall are OL Justin Shaffer, WR Josh Ali and TE Tucker Fisk.

CAN'T MISS THE ROOKIE CLASS: Nothing against the players trying out or the undrafted free agents the Falcons have brought in, but seeing the Falcons six-person draft class in action you see why the Falcons valued them. Bijan Robinson's agility speaks for itself, as he contorted his body to twist for a pass from Brice before coming down and sprinting down the sideline. However, I found it most interesting to see the line of scrimmage guys out on the field today. Let's look at each of the three from the draft class individually:

  • OL Matthew Bergeron: The first thing that struck me about the Falcons second-round draft pick was how athletic his build is. He's a big dude, don't get me wrong, but he doesn't carry his weight like I thought he would. He's leaner than I thought, has a flexibility and agility that I don't think I was expecting for someone the Falcons are planning on moving inside to guard. Speaking of which, in the 30 minutes of practice opened to the media, that's where he was.
  • DL Zach Harrison: There is nothing quite so obvious as Harrison's length. Any time I spoke to a coach or scout about Harrison in recent weeks, they always started by commenting on his length, followed by that word, "obviously." And now that I've seen him in person, his length is exactly that: Obvious. I'm curious to see what he looks like standing next to the veteran group of edge rushers the Falcons have accumulated this offseason.
  • OL Jovaughn Gwyn: Arthur Smith said after the Falcons drafted Gwyn that even though he's someone who spent the vast majority of his college years at guard, he's a player Smith wanted to see at center. That's where Gwyn was during the open practice period, taking reps at center with Bergeron beside him.
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TRYOUT GUYS WHO STOOD OUT: I'll preface this note by saying that I didn't watch much of the defense during the open practice period. They're on the side of the field media is not allowed to venture towards (additional note: practice was moved inside the practice facility because of the weather). So, both of the names I have for you in this section are offensive guys, more so they're pass catchers. I won't apologize for it, though. They caught my eye.

  • TE Cam Sutton: Do the Falcons need another tight end? Probably not, but you know how Arthur Smith loves his tight ends, and Sutton has the look that Smith may gravitate towards. The 6-foot-6, 226 pound tight end is hard to miss. He's a big target in the pass game, but perhaps a bigger presence in run support. I wouldn't mind Sutton sticking around Atlanta for a little longer as I'd like to see how he moves and blocks with full pads on.
  • WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside: The 6-foot-2, 237 pound pass catcher may not have the build of the long and speedy receivers that are so often coveted in this league, but based on the way this offense likes to play, Arcega-Whiteside is someone who could fit right in. He runs with power, and he's thick. He'd be a tough tackle for a wiry defensive back. I'd like to see his blocking skills in action, too, because of his size. With the way the Falcons run the ball, that skill set could be a particular draw in this offense.
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ONE-ON-ONE TIME: I spent some time after practice getting to know one of the Falcons seventh round draft picks, safety DeMarcco Hellams. We caught up about what the last couple weeks have been like since the draft, but also discussed the ways in which he could be an asset to the Falcons despite the organization being in a good spot at safety with Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins. For Hellams, he said the most important thing to him is getting on the field, and doing "whatever is needed" to do so. It's something he said he did at Alabama, playing wherever he was needed, and something he plans to do in Atlanta. The Falcons could use a mentality like that on special teams, a place where Hellams' open field tackling ability could surely shine.

It's a new season, and we can't wait to get started! Get an inside look at our opponents week by week for the 2023 season.

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