FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Fans and media pundits often like to discuss what a team's "window" of opportunity for being competitive is, but don't expect those inside of NFL locker rooms to think the same way.
- Here are the 10 biggest takeaways after eight day of training camp
- Falcons rule out Bryant, Sambrailo for Friday's preseason opener
- Schedules: 2018 AT&T Training Camp | Preseason and regular season
- Photos: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8
- Highlights: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8
- Takeaways: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8
"I think from a player's perspective, the window is always one year," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said after a sun-filled practice on Monday. "It's this team that we have right now, how good can we be. That's something you learn the longer you play – the sense of urgency, how quickly it goes by. Ten years go by in a blink. That sense of urgency has to be there.
"I don't worry so much about the window that you talk about – whether it's three years, two years, whatever that is. To me, it's we've got seven months, six months to be the absolute best football team we can be. And during that window, we need to be as productive and all in as we can possibly be."
During training camp, the Falcons have methodically practiced various situations that could occur during games and emphasized specific areas they would like to improve upon in 2018. A key moment in this year's window will take place Friday when the Falcons play their first preseason game of the year in New Jersey against the New York Jets at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Plenty of highlights in the passing game
- The Falcons appeared to move the ball well through the air during Monday's practice. There were a number of nice plays at every level of the defense, involving a variety of quarterback and receivers.
- Rookie quarterback Kurt Benkert looked sharp in practice hitting a couple of receivers as they came open for what would have likely been big gains in a live game.
- Rookie receiver Devin Gray was one such player who caught a well-timed pass over the middle in traffic. He later made a nice catch on a corner route on a pass from quarterback Garrett Grayson.
- Christian Blake was another rookie receiver who had a few notable catches. On one of those plays, he caught a pass from Benkert on the sideline while falling down and keeping both feet inbounds.
- Quarterback Matt Schaub had some strong throws as well during Monday's practice. He hit rookie tight end Jaeden Graham on a play-action pass that would have gone for a big gain. Schaub also connected with Marvin Hall and rookie receiver Lamar Jordan on two good throws.
- Matt Ryan looked efficient and effective during the team's last 2-minute drill of the day, hitting a number of different receivers while leading the team down the field. He did have a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Jack Crawford but responded to hit receiver Justin Hardy on a crossing pattern for a big gain.
- Ryan capped off the team's 2-minute drill with a nice pass into the back right corner of the end zone to rookie receiver Calvin Ridley for a touchdown.
- Defensively, the Falcons had a pair of interceptions during the 11-on-11 periods. Cornerback Robert Alford stepped in front of a Ryan pass for what would have likely been a pick-six and rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun showed good awareness to snag a tipped pass and come away with the turnover.
Second-year Falcons look like 'whole new players'
Head coach Dan Quinn is a staunch believer in the jump a player can make between his first and second seasons. Last year, players like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and De'Vondre Campbell showed improvement in their second NFL seasons, and it appears a new group of Year-2 players are making similar strides.
"That's where the big jump comes," Quinn said of the second year. "You see it with Duke Riley, he's taking off. It will happen, the same thing, with Takk [McKinley] we've seen that jump from him – he's been limited in practice so far. But we saw it from other guys. Last year it happened to be Neal and Deion and De'Vondre, and this year's class is doing the same thing. The [Damontae] Kazees and the Rileys and guys who are going from [year] one to two, they're like whole new players."
Atlanta has a number of second-year players who could factor into the team's overall success this season. Defensively, Kazee, Riley and McKinley are three guys who could take on bigger roles, while the offense could benefit from the experience Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis have gained going into their second year with the Falcons.
Takk believes he could have had 'at least' 13 sacks last season
Takk McKinley is one of those second-year players mentioned above, and he is expected to take on a bigger role in the defense after finishing his rookie season with six sacks, excluding the two he recorded in the playoffs. When asked to reflect on his rookie season after Monday's practice, McKinley shared his belief that he left some sacks sitting on the table.
"I had six sacks; I like to say eight sacks, I had two in the postseason," McKinley said. "Looking back I should have had at least 13 sacks if I had finished.
"I mean watching film, you're always going to miss some sacks. I missed at least about five sacks last year. You've just got to finish. Just not chasing. Sometimes you just reach out your arms instead of wrapping up. It's just one of those things, I could have had more but sometimes you get some, sometimes you don't."
Other notes and observations
- The defensive line and offensive line got some good 1-on-1 work prior to the start of the team periods.
- Right guard Brandon Fusco won his rep against Crawford; he also was back working with the first-team unit during the 11-on-11 sessions.
- Defensive end Vic Beasley plowed over rookie tackle Matt Gono, knocking the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder on his back with a well-timed bull rush.
- Reserve guard Jamil Douglas had a good rep against Grady Jarrett.
- Rookie defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had no trouble getting past a lunging Sean Harlow.
- Rookie linebacker Richard Jarvis ended the period by showing some speed and acceleration around the edge.
- The quarterbacks spent a lot of time working with the running backs early in practice, and Tevin Coleman continues to display good hands in camp as he made a tough catch in stride on a ball that was thrown below his knees.
- Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell was seen working with Dan Quinn in a private session during individual position drills.
- Offensive line coach Chris Morgan yelled at the offensive line, "I want it faster and more violent," during position drills.