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Training Camp Takeaways

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Takeaways: Falcons defensive line showing team's focus on versatility

The defensive line play looks stout on the interior and fast off the edge, and Atlanta has a lot of players who can handle multiple roles

The final three-day block of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp began on Wednesday, and the team is making its final few installs of the offseason before looking to see who can make a jump ahead of roster cut downs.

Atlanta's decisions along the defensive line will be particularly interesting, because there are several players making plays and looking like they can play multiple roles for the Falcons. Players like John Cominsky and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner have been putting together really nice camps and look to be in great shape heading into the season. Those two have both lined up at end and shifted inside at times, and they have the requisite size and athleticism to handle both roles.

Steven Means is another player who, coming off of injury, is getting plenty of reps in camp and someone who could add depth at defensive end. Both Allen Bailey and Charles Harris can handle roles as the last player on the defensive line or rotate inside if the Falcons bring down a linebacker or a stand up rusher outside of them.

This level of versatility give the Falcons options with the fronts they can play. Versatility is among the best descriptors for what Atlanta has shown in camp, defensively. Players can handle many different assignments, which should make it difficult for opposing offenses to know the Falcons are doing on any given play.

LaRoy Reynolds is a very important addition

Bringing back linebacker LaRoy Reynolds as a free agent this offseason was a move that went largely under the radar, but there's reason to believe it could be among the most important moves the team made. Reynolds is a very well-respected player with the Falcons' locker room, and he has an energy that is infectious throughout the team.

That energy was something the Falcons lacked at times throughout the 2019 season, particularly during the first half when Atlanta fell behind early in most games. With Reynolds back in the picture, the defense has been boisterous and confident throughout practice, and the veteran linebacker is a big part of that.

That was never more obvious than during a red-zone period on Wednesday. Reynolds made two excellent tackles that created a pop that echoed across the field. One of those tackles game at the 2-yard line, when Reynolds made the right read, filled the gap and stopped Ito Smith in his tracks. In expected fashion, Reynolds then let everyone on the field know that nobody was going to get past him and it was clear how much his fellow defenders enjoyed the bravado.

A.J. Terrell is "a dog"

There's been plenty of talk about how well A.J Terrell, the team's first-round pick, has looked thus far in camp. After Wednesday's practice, however, safety Damontae Kazee put it about as well as anyone.

"The boy is a dog, I'm just going to tell you that right now," Kazee said. "I have nothing else to say about it, he's a dog."

Terrell has worked with the starters throughout camp, facing Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley with regularity. At this point, there's not much more to say about Terrell that hasn't been said, but hearing such praise from a fellow member of the secondary is notable.

Matt Hennessy "ready to roll" in any role

Dan Quinn explained prior to Wednesday's practice that no decision has yet to be made regarding the Falcons' left guard competition, and there isn't even a leader in the clubhouse. Rookie Matt Hennessy has largely been working with the starters, and Quinn says Atlanta wants to give him as many reps with that group as possible.

For his part, Hennessy says he'll be prepared for whatever the team asks of him when the season begins.

"Whatever the team needs me to do, I'll be ready to roll," Hennessy said. "Whatever role I need to fill, I'm going to do it to help us win. I don't know what that will look like yet, but I'm down to help the team, whatever that looks like."

Six players held out of Wednesday's practice

There were five players who did not participate in practice on Wednesday, and they fall under three categories. Todd Gurley and Alex Mack seemingly received a planned day off for rest. They've received one day off during each three-day block of camp, so they will likely be back for the final two practices.

Wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, rookie defensive tackle Marlon Davidson and running back Qadree Ollison were held out of practice due to injuries. Quinn has previously stated that Davidson has a knee strain that has kept him out for much of camp, but no further clarification was given on the injuries to Zaccheaus and Ollison.

Finally, quarterback Kurt Benkert was excused from practice for what Quinn said were, "the very best of personal reasons."

More camp observations

Younghoe Koo was a perfect 5-for-5 on his field goal attempts with many players cheering on. The kicks varied from distance, but all five were right down the middle.

Mykal Walker continues to show off his pass rushing ability. He beat Jaeden Graham during 1-on-1 drills and later had a would-be sack during a goal line drill.

It was a good practice for Kendall Sheffield. The second-year corner made a nice one-handed grab in individual drills, intercepted a pass meant for Devin Gray and stayed right in Julio Jones's hip pocket to knock away a deep pass in 1-on-1 drills.

Hayden Hurst caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan during goal-line drills, and that's an area where he could be really effective in 2020.

Outside of Hurst's touchdown, it was a strong showing from the starting defense on the goal line Wednesday. They defended both the run and the pass excellently and did not surrender another score.

With Todd Gurley and Qadree Ollison sitting out, Brian Hill and Ito Smith got plenty of work at running back. Among those two, it was Hill who looked sharper in practice. He had a couple of nice runs during full-team drills, although he did have one drop in the flat. Smith still showed great vision and cuts on some carries, but he couldn't find much running room and was stripped by Foye Oluokun during a red-zone drill.

The chemistry Matt Ryan and Russell Gage have cultivated was on display Wednesday. During the 11-on-11 period, Keanu Neal lined up in the slot across from Gage before coming on a blitz once the ball was snapped. Ryan calmly took the snap and threw into the blitz, finding Gage on a quick out route for an easy completion with a lot of room to run.

Tight end Khari Lee made a couple of really nice catches in practice, showing off some soft hands and great concentration.

Defensive back Kendall Sheffield is known for working silently to perfect his craft, but his ability has been hard to ignore. Take a look at the best images from Day 18 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.

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