The Atlanta Falcons had their first padded practice of training camp on Sunday and then followed that with another Monday afternoon. It was practices No. 4 and 5 of the 2012 training camp, and head coach Mike Smith said he warned the guys before putting on the pads that full contact was not an option.
“I had to have a nice long conversation with the team two days before we started with pads to be frank with you, and explain to them what we want to get accomplished when we’re in pads,” said Smith after practice on Monday. “Our number one goal, as a staff and a football team, is to get to the opener as healthy as we possibly can.”
Quarterbacks, as always during practice, were off limits, as was tackling to the ground. But the team still had two spirited sessions.
Here are four things we learned from Atlanta’s first padded practices:
1. Garrett Reynolds Is the Starting Right Guard at This Point in Camp
Last season began with Garrett Reynolds holding the spot of starting right guard, but he only held onto the position for seven games. Joe Hawley won the job heading into Week 9 and Reynolds was reduced to a reserve role.
Fast forward to 2012 and Smith said Sunday that Reynolds was now back at No. 1 on the depth chart, albeit with some competition.
“I think Garrett’s had a very good offseason starting back in OTAs,” Smith said. “He’s a guy that is going to get an opportunity to run with the first team as well as a couple of other guys. Garrett is one of the hardest working guys that we have on our football team. Right now as we speak he’s our No. 1 right guard, but I think you’ll see the competition and other guys will get an opportunity as we go through camp.”
2. The Falcons Seem Set on the Wide Receiver Depth Chart from No. 1 to No. 4
Everyone on the planet who’s ever heard of the Atlanta Falcons knows that Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas are set as the top three wide receivers in Atlanta.
Kerry Meier has impressed in his first few days of camp, and Coach Smith stated simply after Monday’s practice that the first four receivers are set and the competition left to play out is for the fifth spot on the depth chart.
Smith praised Drew Davis Monday after a session where Davis made a number of great plays. “He [Davis] was on our practice squad last year, and he’s got height, speed, and catches the ball extremely well,” said Smith. “He’s a guy that’s very young in his football development. He has a basketball background as well. He’s a good, young prospect for us.”
Kevin Cone has impressed too and will fight with Davis for what may likely be the final receiver spot on the 53-man roster.
“The tough thing down the line of receivers is we’ve got four guys that have got experience,” said Smith. “Kevin Cone and Drew are probably competing with these young guys that joined us in April.”
3. Asante Samuel Brings More Than Skill to the Table
Shortly after rookie Peyton Thompson batted down a Chris Redman pass in 7-on-7 drills Sunday, he got excited and gave a short celebratory scream. Asante Samuel pulled the rookie aside.
Samuel felt the rookie should have been a bit more boisterous in his celebration and proceeded to give a few examples.
Samuel isn’t afraid to call out offensive players—daring them to attack the former Pro Bowler. He’s also willing to do the same to the coaches on the offensive side of the ball.
While his antics are more playful than detrimental, Samuel’s swagger is infectious—which is a fantastic trait for the secondary to explore seeing as how it’s been a weak point on the Falcons defense for years. Samuel’s presence may vault the secondary into top 10 status in the NFL.
Samuel will surely teach them all how to act accordingly if that happens.
4. LB Robert James May Be Answering the Call for Help
Since the time minicamp ended the Falcons lost two linebackers to off-the-field training injuries—Lofa Tatupu for the season and Matt Hansen for four to six months.
Tatupu’s injury vaulted Akeem Dent into a starting role as the Falcons Mike linebacker and left the team lacking depth on the linebacker corps.
Atlanta re-signed veteran Mike Peterson on July 23, but Coach Smith praised Robert James Monday as a guy who was turning heads.
“Robert (James) has gotten an opportunity in OTA’s and camp to this point,” said Smith. “I thought he was very impressive in OTA’s. He’s a guy that got a lot of snaps at nickel. The reason that happened is because Stephen Nicholas didn’t participate, so he’s gotten an opportunity to show what he can do.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.