LAS VEGAS – As players and the Falcons coaching staff wrapped up their first Shrine Bowl practice on Saturday at the Fertitta Football Complex, NFL scouts, general managers and media were scattered across the sidelines, conversing and jotting down notes.
It was perfect football weather to watch players compete from institutions all over the country. Sunny and blue skies, with a chill breeze passing through the palm trees.
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Falcons special teams coordinator Marquice Williams, who will be serving as head coach for the East team, mentioned that players did a great job of transitioning and understanding Atlanta's concepts, schemes and how they practice at the league level.
Players competed in various drills, including 7-on-7 and one-on-ones, in addition to practicing together offensively, defensively and on special teams.
For Williams and the Falcons specifically, adaptability is the main trait they want to see in players as the week progresses.
"Adapt to new schemes, new concepts, because everything right now is foreign to what we're teaching them," Williams said in his post-practice press conference. "And then the ability to go out there and apply what they're learning, whether it's from a meeting to practice, from those individual drills in practice, to the team reps. And then the ability to compete. We're looking for highly competitive guys. They might not win the first rep, but do they try to come back and win the second, third, and fourth rep. The adaptability, having that growth mindset, and then being able to compete."
Notable prospects such as Boston College's Zay Flowers, Purdue's Aidan O'Connell, and Florida's Brenton Cox Jr. will all be competing in this year's Shrine Bowl game. Having hands-on experience as coaches will help the Falcons evaluate and learn more about each player and how well they respond in gameday situational plays.
"We get those opportunities to get more in-depth questions about certain players," Williams said. "We get to answer those questions while we're here. Also, too, it helps us help the NFL. We're out here helping 31 other teams evaluate players, too, as well. Yes, it is our advantage because we're with them day-in-and-day-out but when we're going out to practice, there might be questions about certain players. Hopefully while we're here, the Falcons organization, we can help answer those questions for other teams as well."
Learning a new scheme and meshing with teammates you've never played with before, all while competing in front of NFL personnel can be a lot thrown at a player. Yet, Williams emphasized that it's "a slow-drip process."
With a full slate of practices still ahead, Williams is focused on the consistent progression and improvement not only in his players and coaching staff, but in himself as a first-time head coach.
"I'm very excited for all these players out here because there best days are yet to come, Williams said. "Being able to help them get better both on and off the field, and as you move years down the road, you see these guys playing on different teams and you see their success. It's really cool and it's a rare opportunity that we get as a coaching staff."