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Camp report: Falcons secondary face speedy Miami receivers in joint practice 

Tre Flowers stepping into first-team role with Jeff Okudah out, plus more notes, observations from practice. 

MIAMI GARDENS, Fl. — Tre Flowers doesn't relish the fact that he's stepping into a first-team role because Jeff Okudah is hurt. He understands he has an opportunity in front of him, but he's more than cognizant that it's because Okudah is in the process of rehabbing an ankle injury sustained in practice last week.

That doesn't mean he isn't going to prepare like anything less than the starter. Even before Okudah got hurt he wasn't.

"Just speaking on Jeff, you hate to see that, and I want to say that first," Flowers said. "I always prepare like I'm starting… Mentally, I come to the game and give it my all. With him going down, it wasn't like I had to do this or I had to do that. You stay ready so you don't have to get ready."

Speaking to the media for the first time since Okudah's injury, assistant head coach Jerry Gray said he is appreciating the competition he sees from players like Flowers and Mike Hughes as they step into Okudah's vacant shoes opposite A.J. Terrell in the Falcons secondary.

But it's still early, and Gray said he's learning just as much about what he has in these players to make sure he's making the best decisions - schematically - for the new guys rotating into a spot formerly held by Okudah.

"The biggest thing is: How do you mesh with the group? That's No. 1," Gray said. "But we're also trying to figure out if you're a press guy or off guy… We know who Jeff is, but let's see who Mike is, who Tre is. Let's see who Dee Alford is. Let's see who these guys are."



While this is happening on the field, Gray has just as much homework off the field for Okudah as he works his way back to 100 percent, which could be in the early weeks of the season.

Right now, he has Okudah watching old film on Indianapolis because, well, he wants him to see how a Frank Reich offense operates since the Falcons face Carolina in Week 1.

"You have to prepare yourself as if you're getting ready to go in this game here," Gray said. "…Now, what do you do (after you're injured)? You don't go brain dead. You still have to be prepared. So, if he's prepared, once he's ready to go he won't miss a beat."

In the meantime, players like Flowers are trying their hand with the first-team, trying to consistently stack the long, hot days of training camp, especially those against the Miami receivers.

"We all come from different systems," Flowers said of this secondary. "We're free agents, draft picks and guys who have been here, but (the coaches are) bringing us all together."

The Falcons take flight to Miami to face the Dolphins in the first preseason game of 2023. #RiseUp

Practice notes and observations:

Roll call: Calais Campbell made his return to practice on Tuesday for the first time since reporting to training camp two weeks ago when he was placed on the non-football injury list. He was activated to the roster on Monday afternoon, and was back out in pads at the start of Tuesday's practice. In addition to Campbell, Jonnu Smith also made his return to practice after working through an undisclosed injury last week. Neither participated much in team drills as the coaches work to rev them back up. I would imagine we'll see them both in limited fashion throughout the week's entirety. 

Matt Hennessy was not practicing in pads on Tuesday, but he did travel with the team and was working with trainers on his own on the field. In the interim, Matthew Bergeron continues to take the first-team reps at left guard. 

Intensity intensifies (y*es, you read that right):* When it comes to the one-on-one portion of practice that usually kicks off the day, it's usually a segment that already holds a certain intensity. When you put two true opponents up against each other instead of teammates, that intensity only rises. Of note were the Miami defensive backs bodying up on Falcons pass catchers a few times.

In Kyle Pitts' very first one-on-one rep against Jevon Holland, the Dolphins safety brought Pitts to the ground before the ball was in his general vacinity. It, of course, drew a penalty flag. Similarly, on Drake London's second rep in one-on-ones, he was taken to the ground as well. Another flag was thrown. It was as physical a one-on-one period as the Falcons have had this year. 

But it wasn't without its fun moments (for both teams). Bijan Robinson made a cut in route, catching linebacker Channing Tindall on his heels. It was an easy move for Robinson that Tindall didn't even try to make up for when Robinson whizzed past him for a long reception from Desmond Ridder. 

On the other side of the field, Dolphins playmaker Tyreek Hill got similar separation with Tre Flowers in coverage. It was the loudest moment of the day from the Miami crowd. It was quickly followed by a pass breakup by Mike Hughes, with the pass intended for Freddie Swain before Hughes got a hand on the ball at the right moment.


Cart coming out: During one of the final 11-on-11 periods, Clark Phillips III had to be carted off the field after making a tackle. Arthur Smith said he was kicked in the lower left leg on the play. Smith added that Phillips will undergo an x-ray before they publicly update his status. 

Defense locks down the red zone: Arguably one of the most productive moments of practice for this Falcons defense came during the red zone period towards the end of practice. The Falcons got a hot start when Troy Andersen made the right read, easily intercepting Tua Tagovailoa. 

The first-team defense continued to collapse the pocket relatively quickly, forcing a few errant throws from Tagovailoa out the back of the end zone before the second and third teams took over. 

Though the Dolphins reserves had some success, there were still plays to be made by the Falcons defense, namely when Zach Harrison broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage (it was still a good play by Harrison despite the Dolphins did still coming down with the ball), and an interception in the end zone by safety Breon Borders.

Speaking of a certain rookie defensive lineman: Zach Harrison looked to have a heck of a day on Tuesday, consistently getting in the backfield and shrinking the pocket when he was in the rotation. He even got a hand in Mike White's face to force an incompletion during 11-on-11s to go along with the other plays he made on Tuesday. He gave the Miami reserves a few problems in practice.

Running around: The Falcons offense ran a ton in team drills with the Dolphins defense, working the ball both inside and out on the ground. All of the backs were heavily involved, with Robinson and Tyler Allgeier featured on some of the best plays from scrimmage in those situations.

More on Bijan: Robinson worked with the first and second units, which is important as he gets comfortable working with lineman expected to block for him in the regular season. Robinson and Mack Hollins made some nice catches in one-on-one coverage drills, which happened early in practice. Robinson's best play in team drills came where he caught a short slant, worked his way through traffic and then slowed way down so an antsy defender would fly by him before turning on the afterburners again. He also has an ability to plant a leg hard and then turn on a dime to create separation in the pattern, which we saw again Tuesday when working against Miami linebackers.

Mack is back in Miami: Hollins' best play came in a one-on-one where his defender was called for holding but the wideout still hauled it in for a large gain. Tuesday's session ended with a two-minute drill, where Desmond Ridder's unit finished with a go-ahead field goal. Taylor Heinicke's crew ended its drive with what originally considered a turnover on downs by officials, but both teams allowed a field goal try that didn't go through. 

Scott Bair contributed to this article

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