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Camp report: Drake London, Elijah Wilkinson, Bryan Edwards and maybe the most competitive practice of the Arthur Smith era

We also discuss Avery Williams, KhaDarel Hodge and many others from an action-packed Saturday practice

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Drake London started sprinting straight down the field, then picked up his foot to seemingly plant it for use on a turnaround or a sharp cut inside. Cornerback Dee Alford bit on London's brakes, as did most everyone else watching the one-on-one drill.


One problem: the No. 8 overall pick didn't break in or hook back. He hit the accelerator again, gaining clear separation while streaking toward the end zone.

Marcus Mariota sent the ball downfield and London plucked from the sky just over Alford's head. Touchdown.

That was one of several nice plays the USC alum made during a super-competitive open practice (more on that later), including two more touchdown catches in 7-on-7 drills. While the flash moments caught a massive crowd on hand's attention, his consistency might've been more impressive.

He created consistent separation running different types of routes – though A.J. Terrell shut him at least once – and caught the ball when targeted. London keeps showing up and standing out in the pattern, with a nice start to this training camp.

Does that portend a stellar rookie season? No. It surely doesn't. There's a lot he must show and prove as summer turns to fall. But there's no doubt London’s off to a strong start, a positive sign as he makes his way through camp toward tougher challenges that lie ahead.

"Every day, I feel like he's getting comfortable," Terrell said. "He's getting the playbook down. He moves a bit different. He's more confident in his route running and what he's got to do. Every time we go against each other, he brings that edge I need to help get ready for game day. He needs to keep that going, keep building."

Falcons proving "competitive as hell"

Intensity was sky high during a Saturday open practice that left Arthur Smith with a positive feeling about his team.

"I was very encouraged by the day," Smith said. "That was probably the most competitive practice we've had since I've been here."

The intensity turned into a pair of late scuffles among offensive and defensive linemen – one player was thrown out of practice for throwing a punch (that didn't land) – but that unwelcome conduct ultimately didn't negate a session with plenty of positives and a level of aggressiveness the coaches praised.

"You want competitiveness," Smith said. "Part of that is the makeup of the guys we brought in here; so many of them have a chip on their shoulder. We want to go out and prove ourselves. We're having so much fun with these guys and how they work. It's unbelievable."

Wilkinson battling hard at left guard

Newcomer Elijah Wilkinson is making early inroads in a quest to start on the Falcons offensive line, earning first-team reps at left guard for the third straight day. Incumbent starter Jalen Mayfield has worked with the second unit during that time, though we're a ways away from the Falcons naming a starter at that crucial position.

Head coach Arthur Smith said Wilkinson has earned the first-team reps more than anything, praising the sixth-year veteran's work in the early going.

"I won't go into specifics, but a lot of times certain things he's doing are the way it needs to be done," Smith said. "I think that's a good thing for Jalen, so he can step up and make it a competition and we'll see where it goes. We're not down on Jalen. It's more about what Elijah is doing right."

Wilkinson said he's trying to all the little things right on the practice field and in meeting rooms, paying attention to detail and being a true pro. While he has played a lot of tackle in the NFL, he's adapting well to the guard spot – he has experience there as well – despite going against bigger, powerful guys like Grady Jarrett.

While Wilkinson is happy with his start to camp, he isn't taking anything for granted. That includes his first-team reps the past few days.

"It doesn't tell me anything. I don't think anything is done here," Wilkinson said. "The work is still coming. You have to bring it every day. You have to earn it every day."

Back Together Saturday at Flowery Branch was a blast!

Edwards banged up

Receiver Bryan Edwards suffered an apparent injury to right arm/shoulder area late in Saturday's practice while trying to make a catch contested by safety Dean Marlowe. Edwards didn't return to the action. The third-year pro, acquired in trade from Las Vegas, was attended to by trainers and left for the locker room before practice ended.

Arthur Smith said the staff initial didn't think the injury was that bad, though some imaging will provide clarity on the extent of the injury. Edwards has had a strong start to camp, proving a tough cover with steady hands over the first few practices, a talent that pairs well with London and Kyle Pitts.

News and notes

We mentioned Dee Alford getting beat on an excellent route and touchdown catch by Drake London in one-on-one drills, so it's only fair to bring up the fact he rebound well after that play. His next rep was an excellent one, as he went sky high and contorted his body to break up a deep pass attempt in almost the same spot on the field. … Lafayette Pitts had a similar experience, getting beat for a touchdown on one play and then making a nice breakup the next. … Avery Williams made a few nice plays at running back, including a touchdown catch in a goal line situation where he ran a somewhat delayed route. He worked a lot with the first team as a receiver out of the backfield. He's a dangerous player in space, as we've seen in the return game … Receiver KhaDarel Hodge continues to show up on offense. He's a tough receiver who knows how to create last-minute separation and make contested catches. The veteran's someone to keep an eye on in the battle for final receiver spots. … While Grady Jarrett, Anthony Rush and TaQuon Graham have been first-team regulars on the defensive line, Vincent Taylor has been rotating in with that group as well.


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