FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons wrapped up their second and final rookie minicamp practice on Saturday in the team’s indoor practice facility.
Similar to Friday, there was plenty of energy among the players and coaches as they flew through drills and competed in non-contact 11-on-11 periods. With minicamp now in the books, the Falcons will continue to have select organized team activities in the coming weeks prior to the start of training camp in July.
But there’s plenty of time to talk about that later, let’s get to some of the observations from Saturday’s practice.
Defensive linemen made plays against the offensive line
One of the more exciting periods took place in the middle of practice when the coaches pit the offensive line against the defensive line. First-round picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary lined up next to each other on the right side of the line, and while they had strong performances on Friday, each of them was beaten at least once on Saturday. Tackle Lanard Bonner was one player who did hold up well in this drill.
But it was the defensive players who made the strongest impression. Linebacker Tre’ Crawford looked really quick off the edge and beat both tackles, including McGary, during his two reps. Defensive tackle Willie Yarbary also won both of his reps on the interior, showcasing some solid hand-work to disengage from blockers.
Jayson Stanley the latest receiver to get a look at cornerback
Those who remember C.J. Goodwin’s time with the Falcons know they aren’t afraid to give a receiver a look on the defensive side of the ball. Former Georgia receiver Jayson Stanley is the latest player to get that treatment in Atlanta.
Stanley has the length and ball skills to play defensive back, and it was his work on special teams at Georgia that really sold the Falcons on his potential on defense.
“He had been such an impact on special teams that we thought the tackling and the physicality, if we could convert him over and use some of that size and length at corner,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “… I would say I was encouraged by the first two days.”
Five players back returning kickoffs to start practice
The Falcons had six players back returning punts at the start of Fridays’ practice, but that number was down to five on Saturday for kickoff returns. Two of the players getting looks at punt returner were not back there to return kicks on Saturday: Former Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James, who was one of the standout offensive players from the weekend, and wide receiver Devin Gray.
Back returning kickoffs for the Falcons were wide receivers Shawn Bane, Shun Brown, Olamide Zaccheaus and CJ Worton, who did not return punts on Friday, as well as cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
The passing game opened up in 11-on-11 drills
Friday’s 11-on-11 session was dominated by several big runs by running backs, and while there was still a breakaway spring by Tony Brooks-James on Saturday, the defense did a much better job containing things on the ground. So, the offense took to the air a bit more frequently.
The Falcons ran a number of play-action passes on Saturday, and second-year quarterback Kurt Benkert looked comfortable throwing on the move. A pair of nice catches over the middle by receiver Christian Blake and tight end Sam Dobbs were the top highlights of the afternoon.
Damontae Kazee’s former teammate getting a look at safety
For both minicamp practices the Falcons had former San Diego State safety Parker Baldwin back as the single-high safety in their nickel package. Baldwin looked fairly comfortable in that role, although he didn’t have many notable plays.
What’s interesting about Baldwin is that he’s a former college teammate of Falcons defensive back Damontae Kazee, who had a breakout season in his second year with Atlanta. The two played together in 2015 and 2016 for the Aztecs, recording a combined nine interceptions in each of the seasons they were together.