Training camp has begun and the Atlanta Falcons did not waste anytime on Friday, bringing full intensity and energy to the practice field at Flowery Branch. Veteran players, rookies and free agents began their quest to see who will become starter going into the regular season.
To say the least, the first day of training camp for the Falcons was very interesting as this team will definitely be one to keep a close eye on as training camp continues leading into preseason football.
The most exciting storyline thus far would have to be wide receiver Julio Jones playing in his first practice since breaking a bone in his right foot. The star wideout did not partake in offseason drills and according to savanahnow.com article, Jones will practice every to other day during training camp. Although he will not practice everyday to make sure he is healthy for the regular season, having Jones back on the field is very promising for the Falcons, a team who struggled on offense last year.
This is the perfect time for him to progress and gain normal strength before regular season as the Falcons were able to give wide receiver Roddy White a four-year contract extension, which certainly helps in terms of providing Matt Ryan quality targets to throw the ball to. Thus, with White, Jones, Douglas and Hester, the Falcons are looking good at the wide receiver position.
On a surprising note, the Falcons decided to let go of second-year wide receiver Darius Johnson. Despite the Falcons lack of success last year, Johnson contributed quality offensive production when Jones went down with his injury. With Johnson gone, there will be competition at the fifth receiver position. However, I think the Falcons should have kept Johnson because they will need as many offensive threats as possible for Matt Ryan since former tight end Tony Gonzalez retired.
Levine Toilolo is shaping up to be a great fit at tight end and will most likely become the starter when the season begins. However, he will have big shoes to fill as Gonzalez was the second leading receiver on the team last year for Falcons. All in all, Toilolo will not have Gonzalez’s level of production this year but it will be very important for him to contribute in the passing game in addition to the Falcons wide receivers.
On the other hand, first-round pick and offensive lineman Jake Matthews got into a brief mix-up with veteran defensive end Kroy Biermann early on during the first day of training camp. However, I do not think this is a big deal. It’s simply training camp, breaking the ice between rookies and veterans and establishing a place on the team. Look for Matthews to become much stronger, progress at his position and become a dominant force on the offensive line this year. With Matthews and incoming free agent Jon Asamoah on the offensive line, Matt Ryan should perform much better than a year ago, being sacked a career-high 44 times last season.
In addition, keep a close eye on the defensive line for the Falcons as well. Head coach Mike Smith mentioned defensive ends Jonathan Massaquoi and Tyson Jackson after the first day of training camp yesterday. Massaquoi should have a great upcoming season. He has matured and grown at the position. The Falcons will need him to step up this year and I believe he has the ability to do so. With Massaquoi and Jackson, who will definitely aid the defensive line in stopping the run, the Falcons will be much better on defense. Not to mention, the multiple looks defense for the Falcons should help in terms of producing better coverage and support against the run and pass.