I was present for the Atlanta Falcons final minicamp and practice session before training camp began, and I certainly had more than a few observations from my vantage point on top of The Hill. Here are just a few of mine:
The first and most notable thing was that the Falcons didn’t work on throwing down the field a tremendous amount. That is not to say that they aren’t during practices away from the public eye, that they haven’t in the past weeks and days, or that they won’t during training camp. But each quarterback on the depth chart made only two throws that were longer than about 25 yards down the field, and this included Matt Ryan. I would have liked to see more of that, but I am sure it has been, is being, and will be addressed by Dirk Koetter and the rest of the coaching staff.
During the passing drills, it initially looked to my eyes like Ryan wasn’t particularly sharp. John Parker Wilson, Chris Redman, and Dominique Davis all were completing slants, crossing routes, and other short routes with great efficiency. Ryan was attempting to hit receivers who were streaking down the field, and once they got down the field he was trying to hit them. However, I was at first worried. The receivers had a step or two on the corners, yet Ryan wasn’t lofting it; he was drilling it right at the receiver, and the ball seemed to be behind the receiver to the extent that it was obvious to me. It looked like a throw that just plain didn’t fit. That was until I saw the break the receiver took. Clearly the Falcons were working on the back-shoulder pass that the Packers used to such great effect last season. Here is an example of the back-shoulder pass. It is something from the Packers offense that I was extremely envious of, and wanted the Falcons to incorporate. With a focus on more down field passes in Dirk Koetter’s four verticals offense, the back-shoulder pass can be a dangerous weapon, and the threat of it will make the down-field passing game more potent. I am glad the Falcons are finally integrating it into the offense.
One more thing about the passing attack–screens were used. I would be lying if I said I saw a lot of them today, but I clearly saw two wide-receiver screens, and a running-back screen. Every time a screen was run, every fan at the complex cheered. It was clear the joy and relief Falcons fans felt knowing the screen pass is back in Atlanta.
As I noted the other day, it would be important to keep an eye on who lined up with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team offensive lines. Veteran Joe Hawley continued to be the 1st stringer at Center, Peter Konz was a 2nd and 3rd teamer at Center and Right Guard respectively, and Sam Baker started at LT. Believe it or not, Baker looked quite good at LT. But you must keep in mind the limited amount of contact the lines were allowed to use during minicamp. Also Lamar Holmes was not participating, but I can tell you this much: he is every bit of 6’5″ and 323 lbs.
Tony Gonzalez also was not participating in practice as he is dealing with something pressing, so it was strange to see the offense without him. That being said, undrafted rookie Tommy Gallarda of Boise State stepped up and made some great catches, and could be an asset to this team as a 2nd TE, and certainly on special teams.
Defensively I saw a couple good things, especially from the defensive line. Kroy Biermann was a terror playing against Right Tackle Tyson Clabo. Biermann was getting a tremendous amount of pressure on Ryan and other quarterbacks during the entirety of the minicamp practice. Again, this was without pads and with next to no contact allowed, but he looked fresh and ready to attack.
I also saw the line not afraid to get their hands up to deflect passes (when they couldn’t get to the quarterback) and linebackers who were also dropping into coverage and doing a fantastic job playing passes. Outside linebacker Spencer Adkins looked great when dropping into coverage.
These were simply the things that I observed and thought were of note form the minicamp. There were other things that I am sure I missed that were extremely important. What I did see were a lot of things that could certainly benefit the Falcons greatly. This team is gearing up, and hopefully it will translate to knowledgeable players flying around the field in training camp and especially in 2012.