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Practice report: What Arthur Smith took away from open Mercedes-Benz Stadium session

An estimated 27,000 were on hand for the scrimmage at the Falcons home stadium

during the AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday August 7, 2021. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons)
during the AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday August 7, 2021. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons)

ATLANTA – Arthur Smith has gone through several firsts as Falcons head coach.

He has checked off several since being hired early this year, including his first press conference, team meeting, offseason practice and training camp session running the show.

Saturday marked another, as he the Falcons went through what was essentially a scrimmage in front of an estimated 27,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the first football activity done at the stadium he'll call home.

One of his favorite moments came before taking the field, when Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot were in the coach's office breaking down the team one-on-one.

"It was cool to go [onto the field] for the first time," Smith said. "You know it's not a real game, but it was cool. Terry and I were talking about things in the office beforehand, getting through our process. Then off we went. …Once the practice started, my mind's just racing. Then I'm in the zone and just going."


This wasn't all about sentiment. This was a productive exercise for the coaches and players, who wanted to create game-like situations to test the operation of calling and executing a game. From that vantage, this stadium practice was a success.

"You try to get them ready to go play a game, and it's another step as we build toward the regular season," Smith said. "I was really happy because this was our first time as a staff…we tried to plan it out so we didn't have any logistical problems, and I thought everyone did a great job with that. That can be a cluster. I've been part of those a few times. We wanted to control it as best we could, especially for the young guys who haven't yet played an NFL game."

Fans on hand certainly enjoyed the experience of seeing a scrimmage and the fact Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot engaged with them, but there wasn't much to glean from the football played. The experience was well controlled and went quick, designed to get the Falcons running efficiently before the preseason slate begins.

Willie Beavers, Adetokunbo Ogundeji rewarded more reps

Jalen Mayfield has almost exclusively been the first-team right tackle during camp. He moved to the second unit for the first time Friday and didn't get his spot back for Saturday's scrimmage. Willie Beavers was in it because, as Smith put it, he earned those reps.

Adetokunbo Ogundeji has emerged as a first-team presence this week off the edge and was a fixture there on Saturday. His presence was also earned through the competition Smith is trying foster throughout camp.

"To have true competition, if guys are playing well you have to give them a shot," Smith said. "Otherwise they say, 'I played well and you told me that but you never moved me up.' We're doing a lot of mixing and matching that way. It was good to see."

Smith was quick to say that the offensive line change wasn't a knock against Mayfield, that Beavers deserved a chance. Same with Ogundeji.

"Everybody we've put them up against, they've won those matchups," Smith said. "We've been really pleased with them, and you've got to give them a shot. In my opinion, you've got to tell them beforehand so they're not looking over their shoulder. With Willie, they don't want them worried about missing a block and all of a sudden, we're pulling him. With Ade, he has shown up every day. We need to let him match up against Chris [Lindstrom] or Jake [Matthews] or [Matt] Hennessy and take another step up."

Dante Flower scheduled for return

Falcons edge rusher Dante Fowler hasn't practiced yet this camp, but that day is coming soon. He'll join his team on the field Monday, three days after coming off the COVID-19 list.

Smith said Fowler was pushing to join Saturday's scrimmage, but the Falcons didn't want to push him too hard getting back to action.

"He hasn't practice yet," Smith said. "He has been at the facility working out, getting ready to go. We expect him to be one of our outside linebackers in whatever role he earns, he'll play. We're excited to get him back there on Monday."

More practice news, notes

Smith singled out several strong performers, including QB Matt Ryan, who ran the offensive show as the coaches would like it to operate. TE John Raine had a solid day. WRs Tajae Sharpe and Chris Rowland were among Smith's standouts. … RB Qadree Ollison and EDGE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner missed Saturday's practice, but Smith anticipates them returning on Monday. …Saturday marked the final time fans will watch the Falcons practice unless they make the trek to South Florida for inter-squad sessions with the Dolphins. They won't have to wait long to see the Falcons play. The preseason slate kicks off Friday against the Tennessee Titans here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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