FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Saturday marks just the second day off since training camp started back on July 27th and while there’s still much to be decided at some key positions, the 2017 edition of the Falcons is starting to take shape.
- Camp takeaways: Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8
- 2017 training camp schedule and fan guidelines
- Ryan has big expectations for Hooper in Year 2
- 10 things we learned from the first 4 days of camp
Following Friday night’s practice session – the eighth one over a nine-day span – Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he was “pleased with this four-day block in terms of all the situations the team got,” but in the very next sentence noted that “we got a lot of work to do and a long way to go.”
So with that, let’s recap the emerging storylines and some of the bigger moments during the last four days of the 2017 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
1. McKinley given the ‘green light’ to go all-out
Takkarist McKinley provided Falcons fans with some feel-good moments over the last few days when he showed off some of the moves that made him the Falcons’ first-round pick back in April. Following Tuesday’s practice, McKinley said he “got the green light” from Quinn.
“Whenever they put me out there, I just go as hard as I can,” McKinley said. “The biggest thing is to play fast. I understand coming in as a rookie I’ll make a few mistakes here and there, but as long as I’m playing fast and hustling to the ball, I’ll be good.”
And on Friday night, McKinley brought a little extra heat during a pass-rushing drill against left tackle Jake Matthews. Watch for yourself.
It's that time of training camp: shoving match as #Falcons rookie DL Takk McKinley and LT Jake Matthews are separated during 1-on-1 drills. pic.twitter.com/83ezz5s7QP — Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) August 4, 2017
2. Sanu continues to stand out every single practice
During the offseason Mohamed Sanu said that “a lot of guys look to me to be the energy, be that guy that gets everything going,” Sanu said.
“I embrace it and take full advantage of it.”
He’s certainly doing just that.
Even if you didn’t know Sanu wears No. 12, he’d still be easy to spot out on the practice fields during camp. And, no, we’re not talking about his colorful choices of footwear, which we’ve been tracking as well (below).
Sanu has been turning even more heads with his play. In Quinn’s words, Sanu is “having a hell of a camp.” And that’s about the best way to describe the sixth-year receiver’s play so far.
Granted, it’s practice and the Falcons have yet to play a preseason game, but Sanu has caught everything thrown his way, consistently beats coverage and wins those one-on-one matchups or challenged balls.
Last year Sanu caught 59 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns. The way things look right now – albeit with No. 1 receiver Julio Jones still working his way back – it wouldn’t be surprising if Sanu flourishes during his second year with the Falcons.
And in case you missed it, here’s a sampling of the show Sanu puts on daily during camp.
"I'm about to BLESS somebody... and it ain't even a Sunday."
3. Julio on preseason action: When I’m ready, I’ll go
Speaking of Julio Jones, the Falcons’ star continues to ease his way back into his All-Pro form.
And let’s be clear here, there’s no need to rush the process. He’s in full pads, he’s running routes, he’s in and out of the huddle – and doing everything you’d like to see a player of his caliber doing in early August.
When Jones was asked about playing in the preseason – and when he might see live game action – he said the same thing he’s been saying all camp long: He’ll play when he’s ready, but there’s no need to rush it.
“I don’t want to hurt myself nor the team,” Jones said. “When I’m ready, I’ll go.”
4. Ishmael thriving in the 'nasty box'
Speaking of being ready to go … running backs had better put their heads on a swivel if they set foot inside the “nasty box” where Kemal Ishmael resides.
The “nasty box” is the where defensive tackles, pass-rushers, linebackers and even strong safeties roam – and Ishmael has been making it his full-time residence. And the way Ishmael sees it, he’s a natural fit for it.
“Just how physical I play, the versatility I give and just taking pride in going down in the nasty box and taking on blockers and hitting people – that’s a big part of my game,” Ishmael said.
The Falcons like versatility, and Ishmael checks off that box. They moved him around some on defense last year and during the offseason decided to use the fifth-year player from Central Florida even closer to the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a really good tackler,” Quinn said back in the spring. “We play a lot of three-deep zone. He’s one of our very best when he plays down low, so why not get him a little closer?”
It’s still early in camp, the but Ishmael appears to be making things nasty in the box. And that’s a good thing for the Falcons defense.
And on a side note, say hello to Mr. Ishmael. How great is that picture? (H/T to Falcons photographer Kara Durette)
5. Goodwin turning heads, including Quinn’s
While we’re talking about players in different roles, C.J. Goodwin – who was originally signed to the Falcons’ practice squad in November of 2015 as a wide receiver – is making a strong impression on coaches with his play at cornerback.
“One other corner that’s jumped out to me so far and I thought he was making progress last year is C.J. Goodwin,” Quinn said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound player out of California (Pa.) who has been all over the practice fields breaking up passes, including picking off a Matt Ryan pass. “I’m hopeful that the jump that we talked about going from Year 1 to Year 2, that’s the jump that I hope he’ll make.”
6. Coach: Trufant is off to a good start and limitations
And while we’re talking about the secondary, it’s worth noting that Desmond Trufant looks like his old self again. Specifically, the player he was in the first half of the 2016 season before landing on the injured reserve list with a pectoral injury.
“It’s great to have (Trufant) back,” Quinn said. “It’s the foot quickness. He can match up on different players, he can play nickel, he can play outside, right side, left side. It’s all the different spots. He’s got very good anticipation. …
“I see no limitations, you know, from when he got hurt – all the rehab he put in. He’s off to a great start.”
And that’s great news for the Falcons, who signed Trufant to a five-year contract, worth a reported $69 million during the offseason.
7. Competition heating up at receiver
When you think of the Falcons offense, specifically the receiving corps, the names Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel quickly come to mind.
Well, it’s maybe time to carve out a little more space when discussing that group.
Eight practices into training camp, the names of Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Josh Magee, Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis and Andre Roberts have been making their way into more of those conversations about the wideouts.
On Friday night, it was Magee and Hall who caught Quinn’s attention with some nice grabs.
“In this block, they are two that have stood out to me,” Quinn said. “Hall with his speed, not only at gunner, we’re going to see if he can punt return. He’s been someone that’s impressed. Magee has the toughness, competiveness, the grit and strain that we are looking for. Those two are embracing how hard you have to go for it, how hard you have to battle. They have some great models in front of them in terms of the skillset and how to go [for it]. It’s an encouraging group.”
Who exactly ends up being fourth and fifth on the depth chart is an interesting debate right now – and the Falcons coaches have to be pleased with the competition there.
8. Riley continues to make a good impression
Linebacker Duke Riley made one of the bigger impressions during the rookie minicamp this past spring – and it’s continuing into training camp, at least to a few of his teammates.
“Man, Duke has been awesome,” Kemal Ishmael said. “He’s been going for it. As a rookie, he’s been going for it. That has a lot to do with the (linebacker) room and where he’s at. We treat him like a vet, we treat him like a brother. He’s been digging just like everybody else; he’s been showing great signs.”
Here’s Riley breaking up a pass during one of the practice sessions.
9. Wooooo! More celebrities show up in Flowery Branch
First it was former boxing world champion Evander Holyfield on Tuesday who made his way to the Falcons training facility to watch the team practice and break the huddle after the final whistle.
Then it was wrestling legend Ric Flair on Wednesday who took in a practice and mingled amongst the fans before speaking with the team. <center>
10. About that right guard battle ...
So how’s it going? All you need to know is how Quinn summed things up on Tuesday.
“I learned that we’re not there yet,” Quinn said. “We’ve got plenty of time to evaluate. Just when you think somebody is making a move, we’re going to take it all the way through and make sure we’re getting the pass-protection looks, the blitz looks, the matchups.”
There you have it. It appears we’ll have a much better idea of how this one will shake out following two or three preseason games.