NFL minicamps always stand out from the rest of the offseason program. It's mandatory. It draws greater attention from fans and media alike. Practice performance is therefore made into a bigger deal in these sessions as compared to other OTAs essentially governed by the same rules.
Are there really conclusions to be drawn from these minicamp practices?
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith pumped the brakes on all that Tuesday morning.
"You can get a lot of false narratives by evaluating just spring," Smith said. "It's just a part of the process, the morning phase. Really, until we play real football in the preseason or have some real practices, I can give you a better evaluation."
Smith is dead right, especially in the Falcons' situation. His players are still learning new schemes. Coaches are still tinkering with alignments and personnel packages. The goal here, as it has been all spring, is to hit the ground running come training camp. This is time to teach, not give out letter grades.
That actually gives us some freedom to have fun with these minicamp practice recaps. Instead of trying to create a depth chart or establish position battles at this super early stage, I'll focus on the three-day session's general vibe, including some lighter moments in the two-hour sessions, and some of my early impressions watching this squad work.
As I'm sure you've heard by this point, I'm new here. If not, let's borrow Jay-Z's public service announcement and allow me to re-introduce myself.
I'm new to the AtlantaFalcons.com, new to the area, new to covering the team and learning about all of it as I go. I kept a close eye on another new kid in town on Tuesday afternoon at the Falcons training facility and came away thoroughly impressed.
Let's start right there, with No. 8:
Looks like Kyle Pitts has "it"
Most everyone believes the No. 4 overall NFL Draft pick will be awesome. That take won't be tested until we see Kyle Pitts play an extended stretch at the professional level, but it's clear watching him practice that he's a quality route runner. He glides effortlessly, covering tons of ground with ease while working in the pattern. He's also tall, long-armed and powerful, looking like someone created an ideal tight end in a lab.
While we won't know exactly how Coach Smith will use Pitts until the game tapes start piling up, he's certainly capable – I know from a tweet last week that you all love/hate that word, so expect it often – of lining up anywhere in the offensive formation. He could be an in-line tight end, someone positioned out wide or in the slot. Heck, put him in the backfield, let him catch a pass in the flat and watch him make people miss.
Media on hand Tuesday saw him catch some nice passes, including one right in stride that undoubtedly would've been a big gain in a real game. He also had a rookie moment. Pitts caught a beautiful deep ball from quarterback Matt Ryan and then failed to prevent veteran safety Erik Harris from smacking it out of his hand.
Let's not make any bold predictions about how Pitts will fare this season after watching a practice in early June. It is, however, crystal clear he has great physical skills and a natural ability to get open. That, my friends, is a good place to start.
Catch (and throw) of the day
Receiver Frank Darby made an excellent grab during a seven-on-seven period, angling in and then out before leaping to secure a pass coming right over his shoulder. He caught it, turned and burned, breaking away for what would've been a long gain.
Let's also give a gold star to Ryan for dropping a perfectly placed ball only Darby could catch between two defenders.
You can see the full play, expertly captured by our Falcons video staff, right here:
Take a lap
Jalen Mayfield false started during an 11-on-11 session. While there are no flags to throw during the offseason program, the rookie took his penalty nonetheless. He immediately jogged to the sideline and then did a lap around the eastern practice field before returning to action.
Not sure if that's standard practice this offseason, a new demand from the coaching staff or a personal choice – again, I'm new here – but Mayfield took off running immediately after jumping early.
What does that ultimately inconsequential moment show us? Players are held accountable, even in minor ways when it doesn't matter much. That's a good thing.
No unexcused absences
Smith said that there were no players absent from this mandatory minicamp without permission. Linebacker Deion Jones took a physical at the training facility on Monday but was then excused for a family matter. Some other players were here but didn't participate for various reasons.
In other news, the Falcons invited five tryout players to participate in this minicamp.
My 'welcome to Atlanta' weather moment
It was sunny, humid and hot during Tuesday's practice. Then, all of a sudden, it became monsoon season in Flowery Branch. Rain poured on my unsuspecting head and didn't let up for 20 minutes. When I asked out loud where the sun went, another reporter simply said, "Welcome to Atlanta in the spring." That weather pattern definitely doesn't exist where I'm from in the Bay Area, but that's a lesson now learned. I won't get waterlogged next time. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.
The Falcons wrapped practice in the rain, as you can see here:
And that's a wrap on Day 1 minicamp observations. Check out the great practice gallery below, and check back Wednesday afternoon for an inside look at Day 2.
The rain clouds rolled in for the end of the first day of 2021 Atlanta Falcons Minicamp. Take a look at the best images from Day 1 here.