FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons wrapped their second (and last) joint practice against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday afternoon at IBM Performance Field, a session that doubled as the last training-camp style session open to fans and the media.
While some in the media will miss all the access, head coach Arthur Smith wasn't exactly up upset to close things and get to work planning for the New Orleans Saints and the regular season in private.
It was a solid summer overall, with just a preseason game against Jacksonville and a closed practice remaining before the first 53-man roster is formed.
Smith thought the Falcons got in some good work after 20 practices (and many more walk-throughs) in four-plus weeks, which included joint practice sessions against the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. We saw some position battles get settled and roster spots earned, with a few more of both unsettled entering Saturday's preseason game against the Jaguars.
Smith was pleased with the effort and level of competition through what he considered a productive part of this campaign.
"The work was very encouraging. We've had a great camp," Smith said after Thursday's practice. "We still have a lot of work ahead before Saturday's game and certainly before facing New Orleans, but we're pleased. I really enjoy coaching these guys. They love to work. They're fun to be around."
Thursday's practice was an excellent capper to an eventful preseason practice window, so we'll forgo the typical player lede and get straight to the notes from a quality joint session that featured plenty of good work.
Desmond Ridder committed to (and making) steady progress
Desmond Ridder is not a finished product by any stretch. He is not expected to start. That's Marcus Mariota's spot, one the veteran has earned through quality play.
So let's focus, for a second, on how the rookie quarterback out of Cincinnati is committed to working through issues as they arise, leading the steady progress we've seen from him throughout camp. He's discernably better than he was a month or even two weeks ago, with gains made in several areas. He looks more decisive and more accurate, showing solid anticipation on many throws that end up complete.
That's no accident for a player who gets coached hard and appreciates the challenge, striving for improvement as the weeks progress on the field and through scheme mastery. That will certainly continue after he plays Jacksonville and learns from that game tape, and certainly beyond that in what's expected to be a backup role.
"My goal for, No. 1: life, and No. 2: my profession, I follow the old cliché of trying to get one percent better every day," Ridder said on Thursday. "I'm finding one thing out here on the field to home in on, whether it's [technique or reads], and get better at that thing. That will help me improve and help the team improve as well."
Ridder has made strides in several spots but identified the area where he has grown the most.
"My base understand understanding of the offense has grown, which has helped with my execution," Ridder said. "There are still some hiccups, but I'm trying to get rid of those completely and play flawlessly."
Alford shines again (and again, and again)
You might be tired of hearing about Dee Alford in all of these practice reports, but it's impossible not to include him. The dude makes a big play almost every day.
He made two on Thursday, with a pair of head's up interceptions where he undercut routes to take the ball away. He was used a ton as a first-team slot cornerback, a common occurrence at this point, and shows up time and again.
It would be a surprise at this point if Alford didn't make the squad – though stranger things have happened – after quality camp and two solid preseason performances.
We take a look as the Jaguars join us in Flowery Branch.
Avery Williams going back and forth (in the same period)
Avery Williams had a busy Thursday, playing both running back and cornerback against the Jaguars. He started doing that on Wednesday, manning his offensive post while cross-training as his 2021 position on the same day. Smith said Williams worked on defense in case cornerback injuries happened and coaches could see if Williams could help the Falcons get through a game.
He played both spots, in one instance, in the same period. He went from offensive work to the defensive field before the buzzer sounded, perhaps showing him what a quick change might feel like.
Smith praises Jags after joint practices
Smith believes the Falcons got tons of good work against the Jaguars over one padded practice and another session conducted without them. There were no fights, not even a scuffle, and the sessions were efficient and full of situational football.
"It was awesome," Smith said. "This is what a joint practice is supposed to look like. You have two professional staffs, two teams that are trying to get better. We all understand the objective out there. We got in some good situational work. I can't thank [Jags head coach Doug Pederson] enough, and their players."
Other news and notes
Falcons quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder had good showings over two days' work with Jacksonville. Mariota, working with the No. 1s, started hot on Wednesday and moved the ball well in 7-on-7s during Thursday's session.
Ridder had a few good sequences, but his best came at the end of Thursday's work. He marched the ball downfield during a period with roughly 1 minute, 30 seconds on the clock. He overcame a drop and ended up scoring a touchdown with a strike to Anthony Firkser.
Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence also finished the final practice right in the same hurry-up drill, connecting on three short passes before connecting with Christian Kirk deep for a long touchdown pass.
Former Falcons LB Foye Oluokun also had an interception on Thursday and was all over the field. He also had this to say about choosing Jacksonville in free agency.
It's tough to say who had the best catch of the day. There were several deserving plays, including a diving catch from WR Cameron Batson, who was active all day in the passing game. Jared Bernhardt made one going across the middle, turning his body backward a bit to match the grab. KhaDarel Hodge also secured a leaping grab down the right sideline.
OL Jalen Mayfield missed practice with illness and RB Cordarrelle Patterson was given a rest day, as part of the Falcons plan to get the veteran ready for the regular season. WR Drake London, TE John FitzPatrick, DL Marlon Davidson remained out.
LB Deion Jones was active for a second straight day, and looked smooth in coverage, with speed in pursuit of the ball carrier. He worked with reserve units, primarily with Nick Kwiatkoski, for a second straight day since coming off the active/PUP list.
CB Isaiah Oliver worked a lot as the second-team slot cornerback.
WR KeeSean Johnson was impressive in Thursday's work. The late preseason signing is a smooth route runner who is super athletic, making some nice catches against the Jaguars.