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Fight club: Drake London, T.J. Yates prioritize ball security in 2023 offseason

During the special teams period at practice, Falcons wide receiver coach T.J. Yates hits a ball in Drake London's arms as hard as he can. There's a method to the madness, though. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- We all know what the first rule of fight club is, right? Don't talk about fight club. Well, consider this a breach of the first cardinal sin of fight club. We're talking about it because there have been a number of punches thrown between Drake London and Falcons wide receiver coach T.J. Yates.

No, not real punches... Well, at least not real in a certain sense of the word.

Throughout all of OTAs, there was always one part of practice that was as interesting to watch as all the rest. It was the special teams period in the first 30 minutes of practice. After individual position drills and warm up stretches, the Falcons would break out into their various special teams roles. That is, expect for London, who would jog over to a waiting Yates in a far endzone, away from the special teams action.


For the next few minutes all the two would work on together would be ball protection. What that looked like was London holding a ball in his arms while Yates punched the ball with various objects, his fists included. Then, London would toss the ball into the air, mimicking the act of coming down with a pass, only for Yates to slap him with a large, red pad. It's quite a humorous sight.

"That's just an opportunity for me to let out my aggression a little bit," Yates said with a laugh.


Jokes aside, though, the humor has a base in the serious, as ball security is something London has prioritized this offseason.

London took quite a bit of heat in 2022 for his ball security. He fumbled the ball three times, all three of the fumbles were recovered by the defense. Two of the three came in back-to-back weeks (one happening against the Saints in Week 15 and one against the Ravens in Week 16). More so, both fumbles came in two moments that changed the momentum of the games.

At the time, London said the fumbles were unacceptable and its something he needed to get to the bottom of to rectify immediately. It's why he put ball security at the very top of his offseason to-do list. He wants those moments to be rookie mistakes and not lingering issues. His position coach agreed.

"Everybody knows the situation," Yates said. "It's one thing you want to nip in the bud early so everyone can play fast."

In the moments that followed the fumbles in 2022, particular the two in two weeks, Yates alluded to those plays affecting London perhaps more than many realized.

"After he did have some of those issues he wasn't playing as fast because he was thinking too much about that," Yates explained. "You want to get that taken care of. He's fully aware of it and taking it to heart. He's practicing on it and focusing on it.."

London agreed, repeating that it's something he's taken to heart to improve upon.

"I did have a couple hiccups last year, so ball security has been a big thing for me," London said. "I don't do special teams, so I can get my extra work in with (Yates) and we do extra things like right at the catch point, him trying to punch it out, things like that. All ball security, just emphasizing the little things."

And the question on everyone's minds: How hard is Yates actually hitting London? The Falcons receiver laughed.

"It's hard enough to knock the ball out, but not to knock my wind out, you know?" London concluded.

Take a look at our number 5 on May 5th with 55 highlights of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London.

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