FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – A number of familiar faces rejoined their teammates for the first day of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
As promised, star receiver Julio Jones was out on the practice field Monday morning catching a few passes from Matt Ryan as he and the team continue to go through contract negotiations. Once practice fully kicked into gear, Jones went off to the side to go through individual workouts alongside linebacker Deion Jones, who recently signed a new contract extension prior to the start of camp.
That Julio Jones was off to the side had nothing to do with the status of his contract, coach Dan Quinn said after practice, but was rather a precaution as both he and Deion Jones are coming off of foot injuries.
Perhaps the biggest positive surprise for Falcons fans was the sight of safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back out on the field and participating in team drills. Both players missed the vast majority of the 2018 season due to early season-ending injuries, and it was unclear whether they would be ready for the start of camp.
"It's a bit of that family reunion feel of seeing the guys and the intent and the work to get going," Quinn said. "I have been as excited as I've been for a long time to get rolling, because of what I thought the group could be together."
Chris Lindstrom continues to work with starters
As organized team activities (OTA) progressed back in late May and early June, it became clear that rookie first-round pick Chris Lindstrom was getting more opportunities to work with the starting offensive line. That continued during the first day of training camp, as Lindstrom was once again out there for much of the time with the first group while Matt Ryan was under center.
Flanking Lindstrom to his right for much of the afternoon was Ty Sambrailo, who continues to work as the first-team right tackle. Fellow rookie first-rounder Kaleb McGary did rotate in at times to work alongside Lindstrom, but he was seen mostly with the second unit. At the left guard spot, it was veteran James Carpenter who was most often seen with the first team.
"It's an indicator of where we see him starting right now," Quinn said of Lindstrom working with the first team. "He had earned a lot of that through the spring, about where his performance was. You'll still see some work as we're going through – different combinations of people – it wasn't exclusive to that way (Lindstrom working with the starters) but that's how we began."
A few early injuries to keep an eye on
After an injury riddled 2018 season, the Falcons had a trio of players dinged up on the first day of camp. The most notable injury occurred early in practice when backup safety J.J. Wilcox went down while trying to change direction and had to eventually be helped off the field by Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal. Wilcox was limping noticeably and was later taken to the locker room by trainers.
The other two injuries of note that occurred during practice were to defensive lineman Michael Bennett and wide receiver Shawn Bane. Bennett had to be helped off the field late during the practice session while Bane limped off after making a catch. According to a tweet by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, Bennett has suffered a broken ankle.
Quinn did not have any information regarding the status of any of the injured players after Monday's practice, but explained he would provide an update at a later point.
Falcons like depth and talent in backfield
The Falcons are looking to replace the productivity of Tevin Coleman out of the backfield in 2019, but that may not be a one-man job. Devonta Freeman's role as starting running back is unquestioned, and he looks good back out on the field, but the Falcons may get creative in utilizing the diverse skill sets of their other running backs.
"It's a position that has good talent for us," Quinn said of the backs. "And now to be talented as a group, it may be a combination of those roles and featuring what those guys can do best … That's deeper than we've been at that position for a while, and I'm looking forward to the unique stuff that the guys do have."
Ito Smith, Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison all had their moments to shine during Monday's practice. Smith made a few nice grabs out of the backfield, and all three have made pretty good decisions with the ball in their hands.
Other observations from practice
- Kendall Sheffield intercepted Matt Ryan during 7-on-7 and may have taken it to the house in a game.
- Russell Gage continues to look sharp this offseason and ran a polished curl route against Desmond Trufant.
- It was a bit of a rough one for Trufant on Monday. In addition to Gage catching a clean ball against him, Justin Hardy and Calvin Ridley also had nice grabs while working against the Falcons' top corner.
- Grady Jarrett says he's more "motivated" after signing his new contract with the Falcons, and he certainly looked like it on the field. Jarrett blew up a couple of plays and looks as disruptive as ever.
- Ricardo Allen wasn't playing cautiously on his first day out on the field. Very early in practice, he set the tone with a bit of a shoulder hit on a receiver coming across the field. It was certainly within the non-contact spirit, but Allen seems chomping at the bit to put the pads on.
- As noted above, Chris Lindstrom looks very smooth out there for a rookie. He's been impressive early on thus far for Atlanta.
- Marcus Green, Kenjon Barner and Olamide Zaccheaus were the three players back returning punts at the start of practice for Atlanta.