FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The first day of the 2017 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp is over with and although the pads weren't on, the competition was in full force and the speed was on full display.
Coach Dan Quinn believes his team "can get a lot better" from now until Sept. 10 – the regular-season opener -- and on Thursday, they began their quest to do just that.
Here's what you need to know from Atlanta's first official practice of the 2017 season:
1. Desmond Trufant has high expectations for Falcons' secondary
After missing the final half of Atlanta's 2016 season with a pectoral injury that put him on Atlanta's IR list, Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant is back on the field – participating in full.
The Falcons locked up Trufant for the foreseeable future by singing him to a five-year contract, worth a reported $69 million. Trufant has grown into a key leader in the Falcons' defense and it appears he's only just getting started. Before suffering his injury, Trufant was playing at the top of his game.
In four seasons with the Falcons, Trufant has started 48 games, posting 213 tackles, seven interceptions, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 53 passes defensed and three sacks, earning his first Pro Bowl nod in 2015.
Being held to the sidelines last season allowed Trufant to take a step back and lead in a different way. In just a few short years, Trufant went from being the youngest in the room, to now one of the oldest.
And that excites him.
"Man, we're young," Trufant said. "I'm 26 and I'm probably the oldest in the room. The sky is the limit for us. We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of speed, we [have] depth. We just have to continue to grow together. Just more reps together, more communication and we could be one of the best."
The average age of Atlanta's secondary which includes 18 players currently is 25. The unit is young, fast and physical.
Trufant is confident in saying it's the fastest and deepest defense he's ever played on.
"What Coach Q has put together, what the whole front office has put together as far as the players that are here, this is definitely the fastest team I've played for, the deepest team I've played for and the closest team," Trufant said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We are a tight group, everybody is always hanging out, everybody is talking, competing … everybody is trying to help each other. There are no egos, we know we have a lot of talent and we know we can go as far as we want."
2. Tevin Coleman sees role changing, running more routes out of the backfield
Much of the talk surrounding Atlanta's offensive success last season was centered around the play of Matt Ryan – deservedly so as he was named the league's MVP for his stellar performance all year.
But the Falcons' running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman also played an integral role in Atlanta's success. Together, Freeman and Coleman combined for 1,599 yards rushing, 883 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in the 2016 season.
Coleman made quite the jump in his second year. He's always had the ability to make one cut and go, beating most defenders in open space with his blazing speed. But where his game saw the biggest improvement was in his ability to become a receiving threat for Atlanta's offense.
Coleman, according to Pro Football Focus, was the most productive running back on a per snap basis last year, averaging 2. 58 yards per route run. Catching passes hasn't always been a strength of Coleman's. Prior to his time in Atlanta, Coleman said he had never run a route out of the backfield.
Quinn is notorious for ways to feature his players in new roles, and he knows Coleman's ability to get involved in the passing game makes him that much more of a weapon.
"It definitely makes him a threat," Quinn said. "We have confidence in him to catch it. He's really worked hard at establishing his receiving skills. It's his long speed that can really create some match ups. He can fly. So when a linebacker or safety is there, you better be on your game."
Coleman has had to put a significant amount of work into developing this skill of his -- something Quinn has certainly taken note of.
After seeing Coleman's production over the past two seasons, Quinn is encouraged that Coleman could be one of his players primed for a breakout year.
"He's had to put the work in at that to make sure that's a role he can do," Quinn said. "He had to put work in, lots of time, lots of routes, to get to that spot. We're very encouraged. We feel like guys who go from Year 1 to Year 2 make a significant jump in the league. We also feel like guys from Year 2 to Year 3 make a significant jump and I do feel like Tevin is going to be one of those players that is going to make that jump."
3. Takk McKinley health update
Atlanta's first-round pick, Takkarist McKinley, was able to participate in individual drills with the rest of the defensive line on Thursday. The Falcons received a positive injury report on McKinley's shoulder prior to the start of camp and have a detailed plan in place on how they'll progress the pass-rusher from individual to team work.
McKinley addressed the media following his first practice where he expressed optimism about his health.
"It felt good. It felt great," McKinley said. "It felt great to be out there with the team and just get back to football. I mean, my last game was in November. It's good to be back to football."
For more on the team's injury front, view the Falcons’ injury update here.
4. The secret behind how Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe clicked so fast
Since Dontari Poe's arrival in Atlanta in March, he's impressed his coaching staff and teammates.
But there's one player in particular that he's bonded with get-go. That would be the guy who will play alongside of him, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
So how were the two anchors of Atlanta's defensive line able to connect so quickly? Their mutual desire to be the best.
"Just basically two guys who want to have a lot of success," Jarrett said. "Know what can be done, excited to be able to play with each other and know that we are going to be able to cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. It's exciting to be able to play with somebody who is as a hungry as you, to be able to get the job done."
Jarrett hit his stride towards the latter part of the Falcons season, catching the attention of many with his three-sack performance during Super Bowl LI. As he enters his third season, he'll get to learn from one of the best at his position in Poe.
5. HIGHLIGHTS: Deion Jones, Deron Washington shine
Second-year linebacker Deion Jones and rookie safety Deron Washington stole the show on Day 1.
Jones showed off his impressive coverage skills when he swatted away a pass from quarterback Matt Ryan, recording a pass break up on the day.
Washington showed off his athleticism when he leaped off the ground and picked off a pass from Matt Simms.
The Falcons return to practice fields on Friday for Day 2 of training camp.