Florham Park, NJ -- Friday's joint practice was heated from the start. With players on both sides excited for the chance to hit someone in a different colored jersey, it wasn't out of the question that the first of two joint practices between the Falcons and Jets would be a fun one. There was trash talk. There were verbal jabs, and even a few standoffs between players on the Falcons offensive line and the Jets defensive line during positional drills. All-in-all, though, Arthur Smith said it was a solid day of competition all around.
"We settled it down," Smith said, "and we had really good work."
Prior to practice, Smith said he and Jets head coach Robert Saleh discussed how the practices would go - logistically - all week. Coordinators discussed with each other what they would 1) like to see and 2) like to work on. So, practice is heavily scripted until the two teams got into some situational work at the very end (of which you can read about below).
"Obviously you have to have some sort of structure around the practices," Mariota said, "but for me personally, I do enjoy when we go into the move-the-ball situations where you just call it. That feels a bit more like a game. You don't feel like you're just running seven or eight third downs in a row. All-in-all, though, I think it's great work."
There was no tackling, but make no mistake about it: Friday's practice was as physical and competitive as they come.
Enough of a preamble, though, let's get into the highs and lows of said practice.
Notes, observations from practice:
Dee Alford continues to rise: One of the most surprising standouts from the preseason so far is Alford and his near meteoric rise up the 53-man depth chart. Though he was put on everyone's radar against Detroit with the lone pick of the game from the Falcons, his camp - overall - was impressive, too. Over the course of the last couple practices, Alford has actually been getting a handful of first team reps at nickel. In the Falcons first joint practice with the Jets, we saw Alford switching quite a bit with Mike Ford. After practice, Smith was asked about Alford's preseason thus far and how he thought the defensive back was progressing: "We've just gotta see what he can do, but he's earned the opportunity for more reps."
It makes one question how far away someone like Isaiah Oliver is from cracking that first-team nickel spot.
Roll call: The Falcons were without Drake London and Marlon Davidson on Friday. Both absences were expected. London is dealing with a knee injury that he sustained against Detroit last week. Smith said early in the week that London would "probably not" be back to 100 percent by the Jets game on Monday. Meanwhile, it was reported by ESPN’s Micheal Rothstein on Thursday that Davidson would not make the trip to New York as he was getting his knee scoped on the same day. The report also said Davidson was likely to miss the remainder of the Falcons preseason.
Davidson did not make the trip to Detroit last week, but other players who also didn't make the trip like Oliver, Bryan Edwards, Jaylinn Hawkins and Troy Andersen were all present and at 100 percent against the Jets on Friday.
The play everyone told me about: I'm going to be honest, I was not watching the Falcons offense during the 7-on-7 period because I was watching the defense on another field. But rest assured that I was told about Jared Bernhardt's catch with Sauce Gardner in coverage about 10 times. If you're like me and wanted to see said catch, fortunately our social and video team caught it.
Offensive line holding their own: Throughout the majority of practice, it seemed that the pocket for Mariota and Desmond Ridder was kept relatively clean. It was Drew Dalman's day as first team center, but it was Kaleb McGary who stood out across the offensive line on Friday. McGary looked solid in pass protection. Early in practice, McGary was the target of some Jets defensive line verbal jabs, but after Smith and Saleh cooled things down on the line of scrimmage, McGary settled in and looked pretty good throughout majority of practice.
Defensive line trying something new: With Davidson reportedly out for the preseason, and maybe beyond, the Falcons are looking for rotational depth along the defensive line. Grady Jarrett, Anthony Rush and Ta'Quon Graham are the three you're sure about, but the Falcons are looking for a couple players who can provide some relief in rotation. On Friday, Abdullah Anderson was in that first team sub package. He's someone to keep an eye on throughout the next two weeks of the preseason to see if he can provide that much-needed depth on the defensive line.
Speaking of the defensive line: There should never be a question about the power and prowess of Jarrett. The veteran interior linemen had himself quite the day against the Jets, wreaking havoc a few times on Joe Flacco. Jarrett had - what should have been - a sack in the third down period, as well as a called sack during the end-of-half situation, too.
End-of-half situations: Since we're on the topic… The end-of-half situations ended practice on Friday and were the only periods that felt more live and unscripted than others. With 1:33 on the clock (and a tied game), neither the Falcons or Jets scored a touchdown during the period, but here's how it went:
- Falcons first team offense vs. Jets first team defense: Mariota was able to lead the Falcons down to the 40 yard line, but the offense sputtered with about 30 seconds left on the clock. Mariota had four incompletions in a row. One may have been called a sack, but I wasn't close enough to tell, still, the Falcons turned it over on downs.
- Jets first team offense vs. Falcons first team defense: Flacco was able to get the Jets offense around the 20 yard line with 15 seconds still left on the clock. The Falcons defense forced a few incompletions, one of which was ruled a Jarrett sack. The Jets offense was also called for holding inside the 20 yard line. If live, the Jets would have settled for a field goal.
- Falcons second team offense vs. Jets second team defense: Ridder and the Falcons were given new life after a penalty was called on the Jets defense on third down that allowed Ridder to find Anthony Firkser 20 yards down field for a conversion across midfield. It was a play that also stopped the clock as Firkser went out of bounds. Ridder then hit Geronimo Allison for about 10 yards before connecting with Feleipe Franks inside the 20. Ridder and the offense clocked the ball for a short field goal with only one second remaining.
- Jets second team offense vs. Falcons second team defense: Though Mike White was able to connect with Elijah Moore for a 20-yard catch at the start of the drive, the offense stalled after a few more plays. The Falcons would have likely forced a long field goal attempt.
The Falcons take flight to New York as we head to the our second preseason game of the year. #RiseUp