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McElhaney: Five takeaways from Falcons offseason program

The futures of Kyle Pitts, AJ Terrell and Deion Jones anchor Tori's notes. 

Not gonna lie, I was kinda peeved when Scott asked me to write out more notes on mandatory minicamp. Did you not read the 2,569 words I wrote in the stories entitled 'What we learned on Day 1 (and Day 2) of Falcons mandatory minicamp'?! I wrote almost exactly 1,285 words for both articles and you still want more?


Then he had the audacity to post his five takeaways first. I realize this is probably retribution for telling all of y'all that he got called out by Erik Harris at practice for standing under a tree when it was 100 degrees on the field. However, I consider this a power play and I shall enact my revenge eventually.


But I digress...

Since you've probably read so many of my notes/observations/takeaways from minicamp already, I thought I would take a holistic view of what I saw. My takeaways are a bit more abstract in thought than they are true observations. I've already written those. So, I'm going to be diagnosing what we saw the last two days from a 5,000-foot level, while thinking about the effects these questions have on the future of the Falcons in the 2022 season.

I hope you see that these notes are a bit different than the ones I have already written.

1. Receiver numbers will shrink

OK. So, I know I have written about this not once but twice now but I felt as though it begged reiteration. Arthur Smith explained it best: Because of the nature of OTAs, the Falcons would carry more receivers and tight ends than they will once training camp gets closer. They'll make some roster moves soon, in fact they already have. Chances are we'll see the Falcons pick up a handful of linemen prior to the start of training camp, and even through camp as cuts across the league are made.

My point in saying all of this is that I do wonder which receivers (WRs and TEs) the Falcons will decide to keep vs. who they let go. As I wrote earlier in the week, I consider Drake London, Bryan Edwards and Olamide Zaccheaus to be locks of the wide receiver group to make the 53-man roster. If the Falcons keep - say - five wide receivers, who gets the other two spots? Do they stay big with Auden Tate and Geronimo Allison? Do they go smaller and speedier with Damiere Byrd and Cameron Batson? And what about KhaDarel Hodge or Frank Darby? Do they fit the mold of what the Falcons need? In truth, it could be any number of combinations.

It ultimately begs the question of: What are the Falcons valuing at the position? And is what they're looking for already on the team? If there's one thought minicamp put in my mind, it's this one.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge #12 greets wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus #17 during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

2. Classroom > Field

Let's be honest, minicamp doesn't tell you much of anything at all about what this team will look like come Week 1 of the season. Majority of the important work done during this time is completed behind the scenes, in the "classroom," so to speak.

Smith said that a successful minicamp to him means getting everyone on the same page before training camp. That means getting the install in, having everyone understand how things operate in Atlanta, as well making sure everyone is fluent in the Falcons specific terminology. For the most part, Smith said the Falcons are on track, particularly the rookies.

To explain the importance of the work off the field, take the offensive line for example. We know there's going to be significant competition within this group for the five starting spots. However, we really can't see that competition in full until the pads go on and live reps begin. So, to keep them stimulated, they have to be challenged in the meetings, as their on-field work is limited to more individual drills.

"There's a lot of things that fundamentally we're trying to enhance right now," Smith said. "It's the same thing in the classroom, another year understanding as we evolve, but they know the basic foundation, that certainly helps, so you evaluate all that as well."

There's much yet to discover within this position group.

3. Strong secondary

If someone were to ask me which position group I think is the strongest right now, in this moment I would say the secondary. I am not worried about AJ Terrell and Casey Hayward getting their job done outside. I think Isaiah Oliver is going to return to nickel and pick up right where he left off. I believe this could be Jaylinn Hawkins' year to shine, and Richie Grant's year to make a significant jump. Picking up Dean Marlowe and Mike Ford in free agency and re-signing Erik Harris provides veteran depth, and starting potential.

Of all the groups, this one feels the most secure. (If - of course - everyone stays relatively healthy). That, and they're just a fun group to watch. Never quiet on the sidelines, the defensive backs seem to be the life blood of this team. They bring the excitement, which is something I'll never be mad about seeing.

4. The faces of the franchise set the tone

I wouldn't dare write that this is Kyle Pitts' and AJ Terrell's team. If I did, it would summon Arthur Smith from deep in the bowels of the Flowery Branch facility to tell me that it's everyone's team. Jokes aside, what I mean in this is that it's obvious the most marketable players on this team are Pitts and Terrell.

In my opinion, they are the ones you build a future around. And to me, they're starting to act like those figureheads both on and off the field, and I say that in a good way.

They're more vocal in practice, with each other and their teammates. They look to be more comfortable, too. Perhaps that's experience, neither are what I would consider new anymore. Even though they're still "young" players simply by an age standpoint, they've played more snaps than many veterans have. You can tell they carry themselves in this way, too.

Pitts and Terrell are stepping into their own power in 2022. And as two of the most intriguing talents league-wide at their respective positions, that can only mean good things for the Falcons.

Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts #8 during practice in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta Falcons)

5. The future of Deion Jones still uncertain

Jones didn't report to mandatory minicamp, as he was excused, rehabbing a shoulder procedure he underwent this offseason. It raised a lot of speculation from those outside Flowery Branch about his future with the organization. I am here to tell you that mandatory minicamp did nothing to squander those rumblings and queries. I wish I had a more concrete answer for you but I just don't.

When asked if the roster will turnover at all between now and training camp, Smith said "probably," and that Terry Fontenot's phone is always on if a team wants to discuss any player.

We know Jones' current contract is a monster, but so was Matt Ryan's. If the right circumstance comes along, chances are the Falcons would listen. We'll monitor the situation this offseason, but for right now it just feels like a situation that's up-in-the-air.

In the meantime, Mykal Walker, Rashaan Evans and Troy Andersen and Nick Kwiatkoski behind them are easily holding the position together.

The veterans and rookies were out on the field during Minicamps this week putting in some extra work and interacting with fans before the summer break.


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