FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – In just a couple of sentences, Falcons coach Dan Quinn offered what could be a summary of the feeling surrounding this year’s organized team activities.
“I continue to be impressed by the rookie class,” Quinn said. “It’s a big group, but one that’s really putting work in, and I think a lot of that [credit] goes to the veteran players, who have certainly mentored in their own ways. It’s been an excellent OTAs so far.”
While there has been no contact, the new Falcons have looked eager to make plays – with many of them accomplishing that goal – and the veterans have displayed confidence and precision in their actions as both athletes and leaders.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Tuesday’s OTA practice:
Quinn ‘very encouraged’ by a defense full of emerging leaders
Just two summers ago, players like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Grady Jarrett were just beginning their careers and looking to make any impact for the Falcons’ defense. Now, they are emerging as leaders who have a strong grasp of the defensive scheme and can make those around them better.
When asked if he believed this defense is entering the “sweet spot” of having young players who are just entering their prime but already have invaluable experience, Quinn explained just how this defense has continued to make strides.
“I just feel their intent,” Quinn said. “I knew it right when we came back; I could see their intent to go for it. I saw it with Vic [Beasley]; I saw it with Grady; I certainly saw it with De’Vondre [Campbell], [Deion Jones] and Keanu, amongst others. Their ability to now lead I think is getting pretty powerful. We’ve had this spring different presentations they present to the group, now that they know some of the issues.
“I’m very encouraged by that group and the way that they can grow together – their toughness, their attitude for competing, how close they are. Yeah, it’s really cool to see.”
*Jarrett focused on ‘trying to continue to make that climb’ *
Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has already established himself as one of the league’s best players at his position, but the success he’s achieved so far hasn’t done anything to quell his desire to get better.
“Since I’ve been playing, I feel like I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder,” Jarrett said. “It never changes, no matter the circumstances. Without a doubt, [I’m] just trying to go out there day in and day out and do my best and let the rest take care of itself.
“My run game, pass game, that’s improved every year since I’ve been in the league. Just trying to continue to make that climb day in and day out and see how far I can take it.”
Anchoring the interior of the defensive line, Jarrett is surrounded by players he believes makes the unit a complete one. With edge defenders such as Vic Beasley Jr., Takkarist McKinley, Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby as well as Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain and Deadrin Senat joining Jarrett on the inside, he believes this group can make a difference.
“I feel like we can be as good as we want to be,” he said. “I don’t feel like we’re missing a piece on the D-line, on the defense, offense – either side of the ball. As good as we want to be, it’s going to take us putting in the work day in and day out to try to maximize our ability. We don’t have an excuse, we’re not missing any holes and we’re excited.”
Ridley looking ‘explosive’ and making plays during OTAs
Touchdowns aren’t overly common in non-contact drills, given that specific caveat favors the defense, but rookie receiver Calvin Ridley delivered one Tuesday, racing downfield to beat the defense on a deep crossing route and hauling in a pass from rookie quarterback Kurt Benkert.
Following practice, Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant told Kelsey Conway the team’s first-round pick looked “polished.” When asked if that description fit Ridley, Quinn had another term in mind.
“Des may say he sees polished, I probably see explosive,” Quinn said. “I see a really aggressive player who’s really going for it in a big way. I don’t know if I would say polished yet, but I would say he’s definitely further along than most.”
*Fusco ‘excited’ to join the Falcons’ offensive line *
Offensive guard Brandon Fusco was one of the Falcons’ key free agent acquisitions this offseason, and he has now had the opportunity to spend time with his new teammates and better understand how he will fit into the unit.
“Here, it’s a good mixture of vets and young guys,” Fusco said. “Alex [Mack] and [Andy] Levitre are the leaders of the room, I noticed that right away, and they’ve been respected around this league for a while. I’ve been fans of both of them, watching them play for years. Finally getting to play with them, it’s pretty cool. Seeing their side of the game and the way they see things, so I’m excited to play with them and get this thing going.”