FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – After the Falcons’ final organized team activity (OTA) session on Thursday, the last part of Atlanta’s offseason workout program is mandatory minicamp which takes place from June 11-13.
Over the past three weeks, the Falcons have held three practice sessions a week. Phase III of the NFL’s offseason workout program allows teams to conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 work with no live contact permitted.
Here’s what we’ve learned from organized team activities thus far:
1. Four key starters not in attendance, including Julio Jones
Julio Jones, Deion Jones, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett were not in attendance during the voluntary workouts.
The two Joneses are apparently wrapping up some rehab elsewhere according to Falcons coach Dan Quinn. Beasley opted not to attend because he “wanted to stay doing the training he’s doing” on his own. The former-first round pick told ESPN.com he plans to attend mandatory minicamp.
Since the 2018 season concluded, the Falcons have said one of their top offseason priorities is getting Julio Jones a new contract and that still remains the case. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said he is “very encouraged” by the way contract talks are going with Jones’ representation.
The Falcons have also reportedly started contract talks with Deion Jones who has one year left on his rookie contract. Jones has become one of Atlanta’s best players on defense and is coming off a season in which he missed 10 games with a foot injury.
Dimitroff and Jarrett’s representation are in the process of working on a long-term extension for the defensive tackle. In order to continue to give themselves more time for negotiations, the Falcons placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jarrett back in March and the defensive tackle signed his tender on April 22.
The Falcons have until July 15 to reach an agreement with Jarrett on a long-term extension or he will play under a one-year deal worth a reported $15,209,000.
2. Dan Quinn finding new ways to feature Takk McKinley
McKinley has been spotted getting some work at linebacker during the install portion of practice at various points throughout organized team activities.
Quinn is all about finding different ways to feature his players and these practices give he and his coaching staff a chance to plug different players in different packages.
“The more versatility that we have [the better],” Quinn said of moving McKinley around. “I’d rather start on those packages now. We may not play them all the way through, but I’d like to start on them and get the experience. That way when you get into the season, here’s a package that I’d like to discuss and we’ll have already put work in on it.”
McKinley has recorded 13 sacks in his two seasons with the Falcons.
3. Isaiah Oliver ‘getting into his groove’ as a starting cornerback
Atlanta’s second-round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft is expected to be a starting cornerback in the upcoming season alongside Desmond Trufant.
Oliver played in 14 games in his rookie season with two starts and recorded 23 tackles.
According to Trufant, Oliver looks leaps and beyond more comfortable out on the field.
“He’s way more comfortable, way more confident in what he’s doing play in and play out,” Trufant said. “Last year things we’re new to him. He’s really smart and he picks up on things fast. He’s getting into his groove, I’m excited to see him play this year.
4. Starting offensive line unit is far from set
Good luck trying to guess Atlanta’s starting offensive line at this point.
The majority of the personnel moves the Falcons have made this offseason were along the offensive line. Jamon Brown and James Carpenter were acquired in free agency and the Falcons drafted two offensive linemen in the first round in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary.
The battle is in full swing for both of the starting guard spots and at right tackle and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and offensive line coach Chris Morgan will try several different combinations over the next few months before making their decision on the starting five.
5. Devonta Freeman looks like his explosive self
Freeman has missed 16 games over the last two seasons and Atlanta’s offense has missed his presence in the run game in a big way. The running back is healthy and looks like his explosive self again.
"This is fun,” Freeman said. “Just having fun running around brought back memories of when I was a kid, playing in the middle of the field. It was fun."
Before getting injured, Freeman was an integral part of the Falcons’ offense with his ability to make plays not just in the run game but in the pass game as well.
Matt Ryan talked about what it’s like having a healthy Freeman back on the field recently:
“It’s awesome,” Ryan said. “Free is such a dynamic player. He works so hard. He looks great, he’s moving around really well. You can tell the energy and excitement is there. You can feel that when it’s out on the field, it’s contagious. Guys around him can feel that too.”
6. Calvin Ridley looks ‘really good’ right now
Quinn often talks about the jump players make from Year 1 to Year 2 and it appears Ridley has made that jump.
After an impressive rookie season where he had four receptions for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns, Ridley believes he’s playing even faster this year.
“I thought I played fast last year but I’m definitely playing faster,” Ridley said. “I see it better, I understand exactly what the coaches want, what Matt wants, so I feel a lot better.”
Ryan agrees with Ridley’s assessment of himself.
“He’s hungry,” Ryan said. “He wants to be a great player in this league. He’s worked extremely hard this offseason. He looks really good right now. I expect him to play really well.”