Night and day.
That's analogous to how Mykal Walker feels heading into this season versus last, yet unsurprising after a rookie season where he was robbed of a real offseason. This offseason has provided tremendous growth linebacker in more ways than you might think, from announcing over social media the upcoming birth and gender of his first son to getting a real grasp of his coaches and teammates.
"Last year everything was so rushed. It was all about the football," the second-year linebacker said. "Now I get to take the time to sit down and talk to these guys. In football, it's all about building relationships so for me to be able to meet my coaches and know what they expect of me is a lot different."
Walker took the time to review tape after season's end and identify areas for improvement. He felt like he was playing timid last year, given how quick the season played out with COVID protocols. Now he feels like his confidence and aggression levels are back to normal.
"This year I'm playing faster and seeing stuff faster," said Walker. "I've always been a fast aggressive player. I just took the time to learn the playbook better so I can come downhill faster."
This newfound confidence and aggression has not been lost on the rest of the team. The coaches have now come to expect this level of play, and players are now picking his brain about what he's seeing on the field or what they should be doing.
"Having that year under my belt, it's night and day," said Walker. "Now I'm out here leading and telling people what to do, what's coming, and making big plays. This coaching staff expects it out of me, and I expect it out of myself. This year I really feel like the coaches believe in me which makes me play 100 percent better."
A proper offseason has better allowed Walker to digest the playbook. He's understanding the assignment on any given play helping to build his confidence. Walker has been able to see his role on a deeper level with added reps, paying special attention to what is happening across the field.
"It's one thing to memorize your plays," Walker said. "It's another to master them. Instead of focusing just on what I'm doing I can also look at what the offense is doing."
Of course, growth like this is accelerated when you are happy and get to learn from some of the best. Happy seems to be an understatement for Walker on this defense. He has formed borderline familial ties with Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun, established players who have mentored him the last year-plus.
"It's been incredible," Walker said. "I wouldn't want to go anywhere else. These guys are like my big brothers. We talk, we hang out off the field. I love those guys and I know they love me too. I can learn from them, as one of the best linebacker duos in the league."
Throw in the bonus that Walker is already loving playing for Dean Pees. Walker has found that personal and professional balance of knowing when to joke around with him and when to buckle down and get serious to learn and grow from Pees. Already in training camp we have seen his growth and come Sept. 12, we will truly get to see the fruits of Walker's labor this offseason.
The coaches and staff wore green shirts to support the Novelis Rise Up & Recycle initiative on Day 7 of 2021 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
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