The fifth practice of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp took place on Sunday, and all five practices have one thing in common: Julio Jones looks great.
That's no secret to Falcons fans or football fans across the country; Jones is considered among the very best receivers in the NFL, but he's entering his 10th season and eventually he will begin to look human. That won't be in 2020, however.
Jones looks as locked in as ever, running sharp routes and snaring everything within reach, despite facing some intense competition from rookie A.J. Terrell. As often is the case with veteran NFL players, Jones isn't getting a high number of reps in training camp, but nearly every single one is flawless. He already appears to be in midseason form, which is especially impressive given the lack of a normal offseason.
The connection between Matt Ryan and Jones will be, as it is every season, crucial for the Falcons' chances in 2020 and they have been very much locked in throughout camp. At this point in their relationship, the former MVP and his All-Pro receiver have the basics down pat and can afford to spend time working on new ways to get open, something they spent a portion of on training camp practice doing.
"He is the most humble, hard-working superstar there is, and the absolute best teammate you could ask for," Ryan said. "I've been incredibly fortunate to play with him for 10 years. … He and I are on a level of nobody that I've ever played with, and I've been fortunate to play with some great receivers like Roddy White, great tight ends like Tony Gonzalez, but I never had the opportunity to play 10 years with any of them. He's unbelievable, he's a great teammate and he's certainly the premier wide receiver in the league."
Oftentimes, we spend camp highlighting the newcomers or players expected to take on a bigger role with the team. Every once in a while, though, it's important to talk about the team's biggest stars and there isn't anyone who fits that description for Atlanta as well as Jones. Based on his performance in camp so far, that doesn't seem likely to change this fall.
Falcons' run game looks sharp
Atlanta's rushing attack looked especially sharp during Sunday's practice. The team dedicated an early portion of the practice to the run game, and the offense was on point. The offensive line opened up some nice holes and, when they didn't, the running backs displayed top-level vision to find creases.
Back on the field after sitting out Saturday's practice, Todd Gurley showed that he still has plenty of celerity while making back-to-back-to-back cuts and avoiding defenders. Brian Hill and Ito Smith also showed off their speed and vision, hitting holes with confidence and making moves to beat second-level defenders.
The Falcons weren't able to run the ball with consistent success in 2019, but they looked good on the ground throughout Sunday's practice.
Olamide Zaccheaus continues to improve
After making quite the impression as a rookie with a 93-yard touchdown on his first career NFL reception, Zaccheaus is off to a solid start in camp. He is showing more consistency as a receiver with well-honed route running and reliable hands.
His best moment of Sunday's practice came against A.J. Terrell. Zaccheaus ran a very crisp corner route, feinting an inside move to keep Terrell off balance, and caught an over-the-shoulder throw from Matt Ryan. An undrafted free agent signing out of Virginia last season, Zaccheaus should have a bigger role with the team in 2020.
Pass rush coming along
The addition of Dante Fowler led to some good moments from Atlanta's pass rush on Sunday. Of course, during practices the quarterbacks can't actually be tackled, but there were several moments where players were in great position to record a sack in a real game. Fowler showed his expertise as a pass rusher with some good moves off the left side of the defense, and he was in the backfield quickly on a number of snaps.
John Cominsky, Steven Means and Charles Harris have also had good pass-rush moments throughout camp, and that continued on Sunday.
More camp observations
One of the strangest/coolest moments of Sunday's practice occurred when Olamide Zaccheaus slipped late in a route and the ball bounced off his foot and right into the arms of rookie cornerback Tyler Hall.
A.J. Terrell got a win against Julio Jones, breaking on a quick out route and knocking the ball away just as Jones was beginning to corral it on the sideline.
As Falcons defenders like to say, the ball was alive on Sunday. Just after Hall's interception, linebacker Deone Bucannon forced a fumble that Hall then recovered. The defense has been proficient at forcing turnovers thus far in camp.
Russell Gage and Kendall Sheffield, two players who could have increased roles in 2020, had a notable pair of back-to-back moments. The first: Gage beat Sheffield on a quick slant route to score a touchdown during a red-zone drill. The second: Sheffield broke up a fade route intended for Gage during the same red-zone drill.
Undrafted rookie running back Mikey Daniel broke off a big run on the final play of the practice, hitting a hole on the left side and then bouncing it further to the outside once he reached the second level.
Take a look at some of our favorite images from Day 15 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.