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Practice report: Richie Grant plays punch out, safeties start strong

Lee Smith returns, Deion Jones intercepts and more observations from camp

Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant #27 in action during organized team activities on June 15, 2021.
Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant #27 in action during organized team activities on June 15, 2021.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons tight end Ryan Becker caught a pass and ran toward the end zone in coverage/receiving drills, with safety Richie Grant in hot pursuit.

The second-round NFL draft pick closed a slight gap, got in good position and threw a punch a boxer would appreciate. His fist connected flush, sending the ball out of Becker's hands and onto the turf.

Score that round for the Central Florida product.

While practice plays on the second day of AT&T Training Camp won't mean too much, certainly made Falcons coaches take a mental note.

"That was good to see from Richie today," head coach Arthur Smith said.

Grant had a few nice moments in Friday morning's practice while working mostly with the second unit. There's no rush putting him on the top team, not with established veterans Duron Harmon and Erik Harris on the roster.

The safety group underwent a major overhaul this offseason with Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen out and the newcomers in. The Falcons also drafted Grant, a top talent who somewhat surprisingly fell into the second round. Jaylinn Hawkins is also in the mix, suggesting those four could stabilize a new-look safety group that has looked good in the early going.


Harris made a nice play on a pass intended for Kyle Pitts, defensing them well dating back to the offseason program.

The Falcons should feel comfortable if Harris and Harmon start, though more plays like Grant made Tuesday could earn an early role for the rookie.

Having veteran leadership in the back is invaluable, however, especially on game day executing Dean Pees' defense.

"We have some good, smart veterans back there," Smith said. "There's good competition. It's still early in the evaluation, but it helps having Duron and Erik. (Hawkins) and (T.J. Green) have also done a nice job. Richie can lean on those guys and ask questions from experienced vets. It's early, but we're excited about those guys.

Lee Smith returns

Tight end Lee Smith was back at practice on Friday after starting camp on the COVID-19 list, according to the NFL transaction wire.

While he won't draw Kyle Pitts-type attention and doesn't have Hayden Hurst's speed, Smith will be an important part of his position group.

While he can catch passes, blocking will be his primary responsibility. Smith considers himself an honorary offensive lineman and likes mixing it up in the trenches. His skill set gives the tight ends depth, with a talent to fit most every situation. Getting him back quickly will help the unit come together and establish roles rather quickly this summer.

Everyone takes a lap

Nobody's above taking a lap after getting cited for a pre-snap infraction. That has been the case since the offseason program, but was evident again Friday after elite defensive tackle Grady Jarrett jumped offsides. He had to take a lap around the field for it, something Hayden Hurst had to do Thursday after a false start.

Smith is all about accountability, and little things like taking a lap help set that proper tone. That can be felt in Smith's practices, which operate at a solid tempo and require precise execution.

More practice observations

Undrafted rookie running back Javian Hawkins has some nice burst and quickness. He impressed on several runs, albeit in a practice without pads. We'll get a clearer picture of the run game when pads come on Tuesday, but it's already clear Hawkins has some get-up-and-go. Keep an eye on the Louisville product during the preseason. He could end up on the squad with a good camp. … Receiver Russell Gage is such a nice route runner. Everything seems to happen on time, and creating just enough separation to invite targets. … Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams and Chris Rowland rotated in returning kicks. …John Cominsky is getting lots of run with the first-team defensive line. … Linebacker Deion Jones made a nice pick expertly captured (below) by Falcons videographer Jenny Ross.

Linebacker Deion Jones has a fresh look on the field as he's traded his blue visor in for gold. Here are the best images from Day 2 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.

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