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Practice report: Willie Beavers swinging into position for roster spot

Why it's time for live tackling, Arthur Smith's comical exchange with Matt LaFleur and more

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Atlanta Falcons offensive guard Willie Beavers #72 during the AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Monday August 9, 2021. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Willie Beavers had a busy Wednesday. The Falcons offensive tackle working on the right with the first unit, the left side with the second.

Going back and forth isn't a Herculean feat, but completely flipping your footwork at a moment's notice can't be that fun. That's the life of a swing tackle, a position underrated by the public but crazy valuable to a football team. The Falcons are currently in need of one with Matt Gono possibly on the shelf long-term.

While Beavers has worked as a first team right tackle this week and will compete for the full-time starting gig, Kaleb McGary will have something serious to say about that. The incumbent is being eased back into action after starting camp on the physically unable to perform list, and while he isn't expected to play Friday against Tennessee, he could re-establish himself with a solid next week.

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This preseason opener against the Titans will be big for Beavers, who will move around as he did in Wednesday's practice. He'll play some on the left while giving rookie Jalen Mayfield a chance to play right tackle.

Being in this position is a positive step for Beavers, who has a real shot to make the team with a solid preseason.

"Ultimately, as McGary gets worked back in there, then we've got to make a decision … what's best for the team," Smith said. "You need to keep guys [that are] still fighting out and then [Jason] Spriggs will come back in the fold next week, too.

"Ultimately, Willie, has he won the right tackle spot? If he doesn't, can he be our swing tackle, he's going to have a hell of an opportunity. We're very happy with what Willie's done so far."

Time for live tackling

The Falcons have been practicing against themselves nearly two weeks now. They've held back a bit to preserve health, with no live tackling and few bodies tangled on the ground. There's plenty to evaluate in terms of execution and technique, but it's time for a new test. It's time to play a game.

Not everybody will take the field during Friday night's preseason game against Tennessee – don't hold your breath waiting to see starters – but those who do will finally be able to play the game hard as intended.

"It'll be the first time a lot of these guys have tackled in a long time," Smith said. "You just hope we're sound. Not a lot of missed tackles, just want to clean operation. You don't want to see a million flags, and there's nothing that can replace that. The quarterbacks are going to feel pressure for the first time, you get hit, get tackled to the ground. Receivers, some of the catches over the middle -- there's a little different consequence when you're able to get tackled. It's a great step to get us ready to go for the regular season."

Keep a close eye on special teams -- we know that's when you're typically up to get a beverage -- to see which young players separate themselves in coverage or the return game especially. That'll be key for unheralded guys or those on the bubble trying to make the squad.

Arthur Smith and Matt LaFleur (jokingly) spar from a distance

Smith and Matt LaFleur know each other well. They worked together during 2018 as Tennessee assistants before moving on to eventually become head coaches elsewhere. LaFleur has taken over in Green Bay and Smith, as you know, runs the Falcons' show.

They remain good friends and, when Smith saw an opening during a Tuesday press conference, he took a jab at him that started this comical back-and-forth.

More practice news and notes

Defensive backs popped a few footballs free after harder-than-usual-for-a-practice hits late in Wednesday's session. A.J. Terrell popped Calvin Ridley pretty good, which forced the ball free as he fell to the ground. Something similar happened to Olamide Zaccheaus in the middle of the field, with the ball wiggling free after a possession. … CB Avery Williams made a nice interception, jumping a route while diving low to gain possession. … WR Tajae Sharpe has been targeted more recently, and while he hasn't been a focal point in camp, he seems to be tightening his grip a roster spot. … FB Keith Smith returned to practice after missing time with a minor ailment.

The Atlanta Falcons have a preseason game this week! Take a look at the best images from the last 2021 AT&T Training Camp practice before gameday.

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