FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Jovaughn Gwyn was a star guard at South Carolina. Playing the position well earned him second-team all-conference honors in the freaking SEC, for goodness sakes.
Yet there he was during rookie minicamp, approaching the line with ball in hand. The seventh-round pick was playing center, an unusual spot considering his football background. The Falcons believe he can thrive there, armed with the combination of smarts, savvy and physicality required to play the position.
- One question for every Falcons position group: Part I, the offense | Part II, the defense
- Why Bijan Robinson chose to wear No. 7 for Falcons
- Zach Harrison on why it meant so much when Calais Campbell reached out
- Observations from Day 1 of Falcons rookie minicamp
- Analysis: Why no one should be surprised Falcons took Bijan Robinson at No. 8
- Question of the Week: Biggest rookie impact (not Bijan); New Falcon we're excited to see
He proved that during two college all-star games, where he practiced snapping the ball and manning the middle of the offensive line. Gwyn says there's "more thinking involved" at center, and that he's looking forward to the challenge of learning a new position.
That's a good thing for Gwyn, who is now employed by a team that prizes versatility along the offensive line.
"Left guard, right guard or center – I'll play wherever they need me to play," Gwyn said after Saturday's practice. "They want me to be versatile, so I'm learning both positions."
Never get a second chance to make a …
First impression. That's key for draft picks and undrafted players alike.
Making a good one, though, doesn't mean standing out on every play.
These rookies are practicing without much time working the Falcons playbook. They're charged with learning on the fly, quickly trying to absorb and apply what they're being taught.
Head coach Arthur Smith made it clear on Friday that his staff is looking for progress, not perfection, during this three-day minicamp.
Gwyn harbors no expectation that he'll perfect every rep at a position he hasn't played much. He wants to show, however, that he can continue to develop quickly.
"I know that I'm going to make a mistake and, if I do, I'm going to show the coaches I'm going to learn from it," the South Carolina product said. "The goal here is to get a little bit better every single day."
Third-round defensive lineman Zach Harrison agrees with that sentiment, but took a more broad approach to the impression he wants to make.
"After these three days, I want the coaches to say, 'that guy works hard,'" Harrison said. "When it comes to the football stuff, I'm going to get better. I'm going to grow. Working hard, that's a choice. If I come out of minicamp and they say, 'Zach goes hard,' that's a good thing. That's the impression I want to leave."
Let's start this section off, as Tori McElhaney did in Friday’s notes, stating that this is a rookie minicamp practice conducted without pads and with players, most of them here on a tryout basis, who got the playbook but a few days ago. Nothing will be even close to perfect. And it also must be said that we can only watch but a third of these 90-minute sessions. There will be no complete pictures painted in this notebook. Only first impressions.
I tried to focus on other areas that Tori did the day before, starting with:
The receiver group: There are no draft picks in this collection, but there are feature players within it. Keilhan Harris' crisp route running in individual drills stood out from an undrafted trio that also includes Justin Marshall and Zay Malone.
Josh Ali showed off some nice hands, including once when he had to go up and snag a high fastball. He stands as motivation for others in rookie minicamp, as a tryout player in 2022 who was later signed to the practice squad. He appeared in two regular-season games and got a reserve futures deal for 2023 camp.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a Stanford product and 2019 second-round NFL draft pick, is in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. He's a big dude who plays like one. It's uncertain whether he earns a roster spot, but there's precedent for an older player getting pulled in off a tryout. That's what happened with Geronimo Allison in 2022, though he couldn't turn it into a regular-season roster spot.
Zach Harrison: The Ohio State product is a massive human and sure looks like a fit for what the Falcons are building up front. He has a huge wingspan and frame that could hold more bulk should the team request it. We'll see how he develops and functions within the system, but it was clear right away that he has NFL-quality physical skill for Ryan Nielsen and the coaching staff to work with.
Bijan Robinson: I've already prefaced this section with a plea to avoid reading much into any observation written. It's rookie minicamp, competition is light (full of tryout players) and these practices are teaching sessions more than anything else.
Let's reinforce that here before we talk about the No. 8 overall pick. Let's also say that there's no solid contact, which is required to fully evaluate the run game.
I will say, though, that Robinson has quick feet and incredible balance and makes subtle movements trying to squeak by people. He also played everywhere. It's zero secret that he'll line up across the formation and be used as an offensive weapon, but his route running from out wide was impressive for a running back. His quality hands and confidence snatching balls from the air was evident as well.
Robinson, for one, wasn't shocked to me moving around even at this early stage.
"Falcons head coach Arthur Smith] uses me everywhere, from receiver to running back," Robinson said, [via ESPN. "He lets me do my abilities and skill set the right way, whether it's catching the ball, running routes, obviously running the football, blocking and doing it all."
Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons rookies in action during the 2023 rookie minicamp.