FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Jake Matthews is a longtime Falcon. Like, a really long time. This marks his eighth NFL season in red and black -- only Matt Ryan's active tenure here has lasted longer – giving the veteran left tackle great perspective on this franchise and where it has been.
He certainly likes where it's going in this training camp.
"It's going good," Matthews said after Friday's practice. "We're working hard. There's definitely a culture that we're trying to build. I like the way we're heading but a lot to improve on. We've got really high expectations for ourselves, especially as an O-line and everything we're trying to do offensively. Heading in the right direction just have to shore up on some things."
The offensive line has work to do once it regains full strength. Kaleb McGary remains on the physically unable to perform, and his return could cause a shuffle. Jalen Mayfield might stay and battle it out for the starting spot or slide into the left guard competition.
Exactly how those positions play out could determine the front five and, once that's more solidified, Matthews' crew can get to work establishing chemistry and continuity working together.
After that, Matthews says, the goal is to get the ground game going again. It wasn't good enough a year ago, but head coach Arthur Smith's system and a new running back crew led by Mike Davis could help things. So could consistently creating space up front.
"The mindset is to run the ball. Now it's just about executing," Matthews said. "We can talk about all of it but now we have to go out and prove it. That's every day on the field working. I know we're putting in good work and it's just going to keep building with time."
While Matthews is focused on anchored on the left side, he's aware of what's happening on the right. Third-round pick Jalen Mayfield has been working that side's tackle spot, and Matthews is keeping close tabs on his development.
"It's a hard thing to do being thrust in as a rookie," Matthews said. "I was in the same position my rookie year. It's tough. We're 10 days in now and your head is sort of spinning. With him it's about improving daily, feeling comfortable with each play knowing what we are doing, the design, the bigger picture than just 'I'm blocking this guy.' He's coming along and as a vet it's my job to bring him along. I take a lot of pride in that."
Fowler activated off COVID-19 list
Dante Fowler was activated off the COVID-19 list, the Falcons announced on Friday. The veteran edge rusher missed seven practices while under the designation.
That's a lot of time missed, but it shouldn't hinder his ability to properly prepare for the regular season. While head coach Arthur Smith said he'll have to earn his role, the Falcons need the former double-digit sack man to find old form and energize their pass rush.
That wasn't the case in 2020, a lackluster season in his first as a Falcon. Several have filled in for Fowler off the edge, but he should take over first team reps upon his return to practice. That didn't happen on Friday but should in the relatively near future.
Receiver Jeff Badet was waived/injured in a corresponding move.
More practice news and notes
Mayfield has been locked into the first unit during training camp, exclusively playing right tackle. He was sent to the second unit in the middle of practice, having to switch units to join that group. Relative newcomer Jason Spriggs switched spots with Mayfield for the remainder of work. It might've been nothing of consequence, but it's worth checking to see who works with the first unit during Saturday's practice at Mercedes Benz Stadium. … WR Trevor Davis practiced with the Falcons for the first time since signing on Thursday. He also has experience as a returner and could be an asset there. He's now No. 83, as Tajae Sharpe has switched to No. 4. … WR Calvin Ridley returned to work after a rest day. … The Falcons engaged in a lighter session after three straight days in pads, which also marked the first practice this week without fans.
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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