Florham Park, NJ – After the Falcons second joint practice with the Jets on Saturday morning, Arthur Smith said he got a kick out of the notes from Friday's practice that he saw circling social media and media outlets once said practice wrapped.
"I had some good comedy reading some of the observations of yesterday," Smith said after Saturday's practice.
From a head coach, it's a comment that makes sense. What many on the outside looking in may not realize is 1) how scripted these practices are and 2) how far from 100 percent players are actively going. Sure, it's nice to see teams go up against someone other than their own teammates, and the scuffles make it interesting, but in terms of what you actually can learn at these practice? Smith said you have to take anything you see with a grain of salt.
Smith used the example of working designed runs in the red zone.
"It's hard to gauge the runs because you know we're not tackling so you run it down there and is it on the two? Or did he score? Those are subjective," Smith said. "That's why I appreciate our staff. They could go down and holler every play like a cheerleader with a pom-pom that you scored, but it's all situational stuff taken with a grain of salt."
This grain of salt becomes a pinch when you take the pads off, which both teams did for Saturday's practice. Asked why he and Jets head coach Robert Saleh didn't want to go two days of padded joint practices, Smith said Saleh came to him when breaking down their schedule for the week.
"He just asked me because a lot of times you look at the second day (of joint practice) and the injury rates tend to be higher," Smith said. "We thought it was best for both teams if we could get that work to allow us to work man coverage stuff."
Even with shells only, let's still go through the Falcons and Jets final practice before Monday night's game.
Notes, observations from practice:
Battle for the slot continues: A few of the best defensive plays for the Falcons during Saturday's practice came in the slot. In 7-on-7, Mike Ford had two pass breakups, ripping the ball out of the Jets receiver's arms for one. Then, during an 11-on-11 period that saw both teams working from inside the 10 yard line, Isaiah Oliver took a pass away from Denzel Mims as he tried to complete a catch in the back of the end zone. Ford continues to get majority of the first team slot reps, with Dee Alford working in sparingly. Oliver remains with the second and third team defense.
Special teams additions: We've spoken a lot about Jared Bernhardt's play at wide receiver, but it shouldn't be overlooked that he's getting a few notable reps in special teams. Early in practice Bernhardt spent an entire period fielding punts. He was also back for the kickoff period, too, slotting in behind Avery Williams and Cameron Batson as Cordarrelle Patterson looked on. Bernhardt continues to be someone to watch this preseason.
Drake London update: No, he did not practice on Saturday.
Who's on the bubble?: When it comes to the five or six receivers spots open for grabs on the 53-man roster (that will be cut down in 10 days, one might add), Geronimo Allison continues to catch my eye. He got more reps with Marcus Mariota on Saturday and looked like he could be a good fit for one of those coveted receiver spots if he keeps progressing. Like a lot of receivers vying for those spots (Frank Darby, Damiere Byrd, Auden Tate, to name a few), the next two games of the preseason will be important for Allison to establish himself within the offense.
A learning moment: During one of the 11-on-11 periods in which the offense was set up inside the 10 yard line, Desmond Ridder tried to hit Feleipe Franks over the top of the defense. With Will Parks in coverage, both he and Franks went up for the ball. It was a perfectly placed ball but an even better play by Parks to get his hand on it before it landed in Franks' hands. After practice, the two met back up on a different field to talk the play over. Parks showed Franks his hand placement and the two worked through the route and overall play itself. It was a moment not seen by many as practice had been over for a while, but it was an interesting moment nonetheless to see a veteran safety working with a newbie tight end.
KP shines in 7-on-7 redzone work: During the same period that saw Oliver break up Mims' pass, the offense worked from inside the 10 on another field. Most notable? Mariota went to Kyle Pitts twice during that period. Both were touchdowns.
Seeing Pitts with more touchdowns beside his name in 2022 is something many fans - and probably Falcons coaches - want to see.
Situational work closes out practice again: On Friday, we took you through the final period of practice, which was a two-minute drill for both teams first and second teams. On Saturday, the format was similar but the focus was more on redzone work, starting at the 25 yard line. Here are some quick notes from the final 10-ish minutes of practice:
- Falcons first team offense vs. Jets first team defense: The Falcons couldn't get much going offensively in this period. Mariota had to throw away the first pass, and then a few more incompletions followed. The final play of this drive saw Pitts and Sauce Gardner go up against one another with Gardner in man coverage. The ball was overthrown towards the back of the endzone, but Smith said he feels confident the Falcons "will come down with that play" in a real situation, noting Pitts ran a "fantastic route." After practice he did not seem overly concerned with the lack of movement down the field by the first team offense in said period.
- Jets first team offense vs. Falcons first team defense: It only took Joe Flacco and Co. two plays to get into the endzone. The first play came with a one-handed grab by Corey Davis with AJ Terrell in coverage. The second was a quick pass to tight end Tyler Conklin in the endzone for a touchdown. Placing the ball back down for a two-point conversion, the Jets again came up with some points, this time with a pass to wide receiver Irvin Charles.
- Falcons second team offense vs. Jets second team defense: With three incompletions to start the drive, the Falcons got a few yards on a holding call after Ridder connected with Damiere Byrd for a fourth down pick up. Settling in, Ridder handed the ball off to Tyler Allgeier for a five-yard touchdown run before finding Parker Hesse in the endzone for a two-point conversion.
- Jets second team offense vs. Falcons second team defense: The Jets attacked Corey Ballentine's area twice in the drive. He tipped a pass to cause an incompletion, before sailing out of bounds a play later with Garrett Wilson. It would have been a great play by Wilson if - of course - he stayed in bounds, but Ballentine did his part in making sure Wilson didn't come down with it. Practice ended with a bad snap that Dean Marlowe recovered.
Trading Flowery Branch for Florham Park, we take a look at the first joint practice with the Jets.