Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Notebook: Rookies See Increased Role on Day 2

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Notebook: Rookies See Increased Role on Day 2

The Atlanta Falcons enter 2022 looking to improve on a 7-10 record from last season, the first of the new regime headlined by coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot.

With training camp officially kicking off, the Falcons face several questions, but have a month and a half to find the solutions.

Here’s everything of note on defense from the second day of camp …

OLIVER A FULL-GO

On day one, Isaiah Oliver sported a heavy brace on his right knee and didn’t participate in the team competition part of practice. However, he was a full participant in Thursday’s practice, largely working with the second team as the Falcons ease him back into the flow of things.

Taking his spot as the first-team nickel corner was free agent addition Mike Ford, who saw much of the work on Wednesday, as well. Ford was joined by second-year pro Darren Hall, with the two rotating in and out, though Ford took the majority of the snaps.

Oliver, now almost 10 months removed from his injury, will likely be ready to go for Week 1. Atlanta’s staff rolling him out into competitive sessions is a good indication that his knee is ready for action; now, he has to get re-acclimated to game speed and intensity, which should naturally occur as the preseason progresses.

ROOKIES GET FIRST TEAM REPS

After first-round receiver Drake London was the only rookie to see snaps with the first team on Wednesday, Atlanta’s day two picks got a piece of the action on training camp’s second day.

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Pass rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone and off-ball linebacker Troy Andersen all received snaps with the first and second team defense. Ebiketie’s role expanded to the point where he was with the starters in Atlanta’s nickel defense.

Andersen appears to be Atlanta’s fourth linebacker, with Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker being the starters in nickel and Nick Kwiatkoski replacing Walker in base. With Deion Jones seemingly likely to return, Andersen may be demoted to the team’s fifth linebacker, but his selection came with the understanding that he’s a long-term piece more than a day-one starter.

Like minicamp, Andersen was used in coverage on star tight end Kyle Pitts and held his own throughout the day. Consistent progress from Andersen and the rest of Atlanta’s youngsters in the front seven is the main goal of camp, and seeing the trio receive snaps with the starters results in an “arrow up” designation for the group.

INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE TAKING SHAPE

Grady Jarrett has long been a star inside for the Falcons, be it at 3- or 5-technique. The challenge for Atlanta has been finding a running mate alongside Jarrett, something the team thought it had done with the signing of nose tackle Eddie Goldman. However, Goldman retired shortly before camp, leaving a room of unknown pieces around Jarrett. 

Now two days into camp, roles are beginning to be distinguished. Anthony Rush will be the team’s starting nose tackle, unless they add somebody from the outside. Second-year pro Ta’Quon Graham is poised to join him in base, as he’s received a majority of first-team reps. On the edges of Atlanta’s base defensive line are Lorenzo Carter and Adetokunbo Ogundeji.

Moving to nickel, free agent addition Vincent Taylor and third-year pro Marlon Davidson have seen first-team snaps next to Jarrett. Looking for extra pass rush, Ebiketie and Carter are the edge defenders in nickel.

For the most part, everything is as expected on the defensive side of the ball. Many of the pieces predicted to start and/or play integral roles have been aligned in positions that would enable them to do so, and those that haven’t are likely to get their chance sooner rather than later.

The defense is off to a respectable start, and as the rookies begin to get acquainted with NFL speed and strength, the group should only get better.

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