The Falcons returned to the field for their fourth practice of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp, but the biggest takeaway didn't occur until well after the final whistle sounded.
For the first time after Atlanta declined to pick up his fifth-year option, defensive end Takk McKinley addressed the media. He was open and forthright, giving thoughtful answers to nearly every question, and it's clear McKinley has a new perspective on the game and his career after the Falcons opted not to take the fifth-year option on their first-round pass rusher.
"It was a wake-up call," McKinley said. "It was more motivation, it made me hungry. I'm not saying I wasn't hungry in the past, but I've just got to go prove it."
McKinley dedicated himself to becoming the best version of himself this offseason, working out Monday through Saturday with his trainers and making big changes to his diet. Those efforts appear to have paid off and McKinley showed up to camp noticeably leaner and well-defined than in years past. He declared Saturday that he now weighs 248 pounds after playing around 270 pounds last season.
With a lighter frame, McKinley believes he will be able to tap into his speed this fall. He's demonstrated a lot of power as a rusher in previous years, but this would be a new element to his game that should make him a more versatile player. McKinley also hopes that playing at a lower weight will help him prevent future shoulder injuries, something that has plagued him throughout his career, and he said he's taken greater care with his rehabilitation of his shoulder this offseason.
The physical and seemingly emotional changes McKinley has gone through are impressive, but they won't mean much if they don't lead to production on the field, something he's well aware of. Still, this is the most determined and focused version of McKinley we've ever seen.
"You don't realize time flies," McKinley said. "I'm going into my fourth season, I feel like yesterday I just got drafted. Sometimes, being a pro, you kind of forget like 'damn, OK.' You feel like you've got time, but once I realized they declined my fifth-year option it's like, 'Man, if I want to be in this league, I've got to do something better.'"
The offense strikes back
The first three-day block of camp for the Falcons was defined by a defense that looks more like the group that helped the team finish the year on a 6-2 run. On Saturday, however, the offense flipped the script.
It was one of the sharpest days of camp for Matt Ryan, who looked both patient and decisive in the pocket. He connected on multiple great throws to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, connections that will largely determine Atlanta's success in 2020. Ryan also made a nice throw down the seam to Hayden Hurst, who made a leaping catch in double coverage during an 11-on-11 period.
During a drill meant to simulate the closing seconds of a half, Ryan and the offense started near midfield with only one timeout at their disposal. He began the drive with a throw to Jones over the middle before hitting Ridley on back-to-back passes to move the Falcons down inside of the red zone with plenty of time left to use their timeout and bring out the field goal unit.
Todd Gurley, Alex Mack and Marlon Davidson sit out
Three notable players did not participate in Saturday's practice. Dan Quinn explained prior to the team taking the field that Gurley and Mack would get the day off for scheduled rest while Davidson is dealing with a minor knee strain.
Quinn did not indicate that Davidson's injury was anything serious, but it's something to continue monitoring as training camp rolls along. Although he wasn't suited up, the rookie defensive tackle was still out on the field watching and learning. Davidson often would speak with Grady Jarrett after drills, and that's a relationship he values greatly.
Matt Hennessy still working with starters
After getting first-team reps during Atlanta's scrimmage on Thursday, Hennessy continued to work with the starters on Saturday. The rookie left guard showed off his athleticism during one screen play, running some 15 yards downfield to make a block on the second level. He also made a nice adjustment to pick up a blitz from Ricardo Allen during a full-team drill.
The Falcons haven't been shy about starting rookies early on in their careers, and Hennessy is clearly being given the opportunity to show what he can do with the starting offensive line. No word has yet come on any final decision with the left guard competition, however.
More camp observations
- One of the benefactors of Davidson missing some time has been John Cominsky. The second-year defensive lineman has received a ton of reps in practice and has looked good out there.
- The Falcons seem to really be working on their play-action pass game, something Quinn has said repeatedly this offseason he wants to get more closely aligned with the run game.
- Rookie linebacker Mykal Walker showed off his pass-rushing chops, coming around the edge for what would have likely been a sack in live action.
- Olamide Zaccheaus made a beautiful spinning, toe-tap catch at the side of the end zone on a perfectly placed back-shoulder throw from Matt Ryan during a full-team drill.
- Kurt Benkert looked sharp throwing the football Saturday, connecting with Laquon Treadwell for a touchdown in an 11-on-11 series. Late in practice, however, he had three straight fumbles on bad exchanges with center Justin McCray. It's unclear who was responsible for the fumbles, but Benkert did keep wiping his hands on the grass, appearing to try and dry them.
There were highlights from the offense and defense during the first team scrimmage on Day 14 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.