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Notes, observations from Falcons open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

We break down the best moments of an exciting 7-on-7 period, spotlight the wide receivers and catch up with Arnold Ebiketie. 

ATLANTA -- And just like that, we're back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Though the stadium has recently held the likes of three, sold-out Taylor Swift shows, a record-breaking Ed Sheeran crowd and a number of equally interesting and excited Atlanta United matches, the Falcons were back on their home turf. (No, that is not a pun).


Like last year, the Falcons opened the doors of the stadium for an open OTA practice for the fans to take in. Called the Falcons First Look, it really was just that: A moment for the fans to see this revamped Falcons team with so many new faces, one of which is - yes, of course - Bijan Robinson.

So, without further ado, let's dive right into what we saw and heard on Friday afternoon.

Notes, observations from practice

Roll call: There were a handful of veterans not in attendance on Friday as mandatory minicamp doesn't start for a couple more weeks. New dad Jessie Bates III was not in attendance, nor were other defensive veterans like Calais Campbell, Lorenzo Carter and Mike Hughes at practice, either. All OTA practices to this point are still voluntary, which also explains Cordarrelle Patterson's absence and why these missing pieces are not a big deal, just something to take note of for rotational purposes (for example, why Dee Alford was getting a lot of first-team reps at nickel).

Best (defensive) moment of 7-on-7: This goes to the very first play of the period when Jeff Okudah jumped a route at the last second, getting an arm in front of his receiver's hands. The pass tipped off Okudah and as he fell forward with the receiver Richie Grant grabbed the ball, diving for the pick as the ball bounced off falling bodies, back into the air and into the arms of a diving Grant for an early interception that got the crowd excited.

Best (offensive) moment of 7-on-7: This one goes to quarterback Logan Woodside and receiver Drake London, who connected on a touchdown strike down the left sideline. Woodside clearly liked the one-on-one matchup on the outside, because he launched a fastball that landed in London's outstretched arms in the end zone.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London #5 interacts with fans during the First Look open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta Falcons)

Something to watch: Avery Williams continued to impress at wide receiver, but during the 7-on-7 period (on the same play as London's touchdown no less) Williams was slow to get up after what seemed to be a non-contact injury. He was helped off the field by trainers, and after a few minutes on the bench he gingerly made his way to the locker room. He did not come back out to practice. There hasn't been an official word from Arthur Smith regarding Williams' potential injury as Smith spoke to the media before practice began, but considering its nature it'll be something to monitor before we break for summer in two weeks' time.

Wide receiver dynamics: I spent the early moments of practice checking out the wide receivers in action. Drake London's conviction to improve continues to stand out to me. He was the first person out on the field on Friday afternoon and one of the last to leave as he signed autographs for fans in attendance. My favorite part of practice continues to be the first special teams period. London doesn't participate in those so during this specific part of practice he's working one-on-one with wide receivers coach T.J. Yates on ball security. This entails London holding the ball and tossing the ball to himself as Yates punches said ball as hard as he can with either his fists or a large pad. This is something the duo does every single practice, and it's pretty fun to watch.

A moment for Mack: Receiver Mack Hollins showcased some crisp aggressive route running on Friday, showing confidence in executing a relatively new system. That was crystal clear on a double move during seven-on-seven drills, where quarterback Taylor Heinicke waited for the route to develop, threw it to where the receiver was going to be and, sure enough, Hollins was in the right place to catch it in stride.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mack Hollins #18 catches the ball during the First Look open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Your weekly offensive line update: Jalen Mayfield was playing right tackle on Friday, a position he manned extensively at the University of Michigan and some during his rookie training camp with the Falcons. He moved inside to left guard later that preseason and started most of the year there, but that position has heavy competition in Matt Hennessy and second-round pick Matt Bergeron. It's possible he's just cross training – that happens a lot this time of year – and versatility is prized up front. There might be some room to make the team as a swing tackle, especially after Germain Ifedi's release.

Also notable in the offensive line rotation is Jovaughn Gwyn's continued reps at center. Moving Gwyn to center was something the Falcons said they would do after they drafted the South Carolina lineman, but he keeps getting more and more reps sandwiched between Bergeron and Justin Shaffer with a specific group of young linemen. With Hennessy taking all of his reps at left guard, developing depth behind Drew Dalman at center is necessary.

Bulking up: Talking to the media for the first time this offseason, Arnold Ebiketie said a goal of his after his rookie season was to add on a little more weight to his frame. He didn't give an exact number, but noted he still has a few more pounds he wants to add. Asked whether or not this was the coaching staff's suggestion to him or something he felt he needed to do, Ebiketie said the latter.

With the NFL season being so much longer than the college season, Ebiketie said his rookie year showed him how important it is to be in the best possible shape as the season starts so that you can remain at a good weight-to-muscle mass throughout the season's entirety. It's something he really wanted to put an emphasis on this offseason to see more consistency in his play in Year 2.

All-arounder: Running back Tyler Allgeier said last week that he's committed to becoming an all-around back, and he got plenty of opportunities working in seven-on-seven and team drills. While you'd think Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson will be primary options receiving out of the backfield, having Allgeier as a weapon in that sense could be vital to making the Falcons unpredictable even when he's the lone back.

Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier #25 interacts with fans during the First Look open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta Falcons)

Best quote of the day: Ebiketie finished his rookie year with 11 quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks. He was asked about that ratio and what it will take for him to turn those hits into sacks. Ebiketie laughed, saying, "I know I left a lot of money on the field last year." His goal in 2023? To get that money back.

Grady, his boy and toy dinosaurs: Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett started answering questions from the press following Saturday's OTA, but was clearly distracted by something beyond the bank of cameras before him. His family was in the front row of the stands, including his young son. Jarrett asked if "little man" wanted to come down, and eventually carried him into the media scrum. Well, his son and his toy dinosaurs.

Jarrett's son, predictably built like a tank, was a fixture at last year's training camp and will surely be again when it ramps up this summer

Scott Bair contributed to this report.

Take a look at the 2023 Atlanta Falcons in action during OTA practice.

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