FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Several Falcons have taken a lap for a mental lapse. It has been happening since the spring. Hayden Hurst did it Thursday after a false start. Grady Jarrett went for a jog Friday following an offsides infraction.
The entire offensive unit took a lap on Saturday afternoon during the first truly open practice.
Head coach Arthur Smith had some fun when asked why it happened.
"We were just saying hi to the fans," Smith said with a grin. "(Falcons VP of Football Communications David Bassity) said it would look nice to come over a wave. They clapped for them. We were just trying to give back to the fans."
Why then, Arthur, didn't defenders go with them?
"I look at their GPS numbers yesterday I thought they ran too much," Smith said, his poker face cracking. "I said, 'offense, it's your turn. Make sure you welcome the fans.'"
Quarterback Matt Ryan – even he was part of the jogging brigade – offer some insight on what happened, while leaving some pertinent details out.
"We screwed up, all 11 of us," Ryan said. "Arthur was not too please with that and sent us on our way."
Smith isn't the first coach to make players run after making an avoidable mistake. It happens at all levels – including my son's tee ball team – and sets a proper tone of accountability and focus.
"The point of it is to find creative ways reminding them you have to be disciplined," Smith said. "There's a lot to it. People do it in Pee Wee football. A lot of the same things work in the NFL if you have the right guys."
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Smith has guys who have bought into his style. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett called Smith's practices a "breath of fresh air." Ryan pointed out why Smith as gained player respect so quickly.
"His style is very up front, very honest and loud," Ryan said. "He lets guys know what he expects from you. We've bought into that. He's clear about what he expects from you. Whether that's in meetings or on the field, he'll remind you what he expects from you while you're on the field. I like that and I respect that. I think guys have bought into that, too.
"He's genuine, and that's the biggest thing."
Fans are back to see defense dominate
The Falcons hosted their first open training camp practice since 2019 on Saturday, a high-energy event that felt reassuringly close to normal after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for so long now.
Fans were seated along the hill next to IBM Performance Field, taking in this camp's third practice session. There are five more in Flowery Branch after this one, where Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot took time to address the crowd.
The crowd saw the Falcons defense always near the ball, with several athletic interceptions on the day. Deion Jones' was the best. He read the quarterback perfectly, probably would've broken a combine record with a crazy high vertical leap and tipped the ball to himself for the interception.
Fellow linebacker Mykal Walker also got one with a nice pick on the run. Avery Williams also got a pick after Chris Williamson tipped a pass. Kendall Sheffield read a play perfectly and made the day's best pass breakup.
It was one of those days for the pass defense, which gave the fans plenty to cheer about.
"Dean's throwing a lot at them," Smith said. "These guys are competitive. Their confidence is hopefully building and we're trying to make it hard for them. It was good to see."
Falcons fans returned to the Flowery Branch hill for the first time since 2019 on Day 3 of 2021 AT&T Training Camp. Here are some of our favorite fan photos.
Zaccheaus proving 'dependable'
He has consistently created separation and is proving quarterback friendly at several different receiver positions. Smith has certainly taken notice.
"He does a good job with everything we're asking him to do," Smith said. "As a receiver you have to get open and catch the ball, which is the minimum job description. We put a lot on his plate, and he can handle it. He's a smart dependable football player who can play multiple roles. Those guys are valuable. He can play different positions on the fly. He's working to compete for a starting spot. That's what you want. He's dependable. That's what he has shown so far."
Other practice observations
The Falcons engaged in a one-on-one coverage drill, with Russell Gage vs. A.J. Terrell as the main event. The top locked horns and Terrell never let go, using excellent physicality, leverage and positioning to make it impossible for Gage to catch the ball. Terrell looks a bit stronger this season heading into camp, which was evident in that exchange. …While Calvin Ridley is still being held out of team drills, being brought slowly back from offseason surgery, the receiver is running full speed and making strong cuts in individual drills. He also catches passes from the quarterbacks with Gage during special teams drills. …Rookie cornerback Darren Hall has had some nice moments early on. He could be an entrant to earn a role of some kind in the secondary or offer solid injury protection to the starters.