The 5 Biggest Takeaways from the Atlanta Falcons' Rookie Minicamp
Let's be real about this. Besides the obvious difference in the level of talent on the field and the football terminology, rookie minicamp in the NFL is a lot like what summer passing league was in high school for many of us.
Players are in helmets, t-shirts and shorts instead of full pads, and they spent just as much time in a classroom as they do on the field. It's just a taste.
Football is still a contact sport. The real player evaluations can't happen until these guys starting hitting.
Nevertheless, NFL coaches like Falcons head coach Mike Smith still attempt to learn what they can about their incoming rookies each year in early May.
This year, the Falcons' goal was to overload their rookies with information and get them acclimated to the Thomas Dimitroff/Mike Smith process.
Now that we've had a week to digest all of what happened at minicamp, let's discuss the five key takeaways we can glean from the team's reaction to the weekend of practice sessions.
Undrafted Free Agents Will Have a Very Tough Time Making the 53-Man Roster
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Undrafted free agents already have a difficult battle in their quests to make NFL rosters, but undrafted players trying to land spots on contending teams like the Falcons face an even tougher task.
Atlanta signed 24 undrafted free agents prior to last week's rookie minicamp, but at week's end two of those players, cornerback Momo Thomas (I had him making the practice squad in my way-too-early projection of the final 53-man roster) and kicker Casey Barth were cut.
Besides the linebacker position, Atlanta really doesn't have much room on its roster for undrafted free agents.
The Falcons' decision to cut Barth and Thomas so quickly could be an early indication to the remaining undrafted players that they none of them have a lot of time to get noticed by their respective coaches on the Falcons staff.
The Falcons Aren't Going to Play Favorites with Brian Banks
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It's tough not to root for Brian Banks after all that he's been through.
Even still, the Falcons already look like they're going to back up general manager Thomas Dimitroff's stated position that Banks isn't a "charity case."
Banks' story will obviously get a lot of attention during training camp in the summer, but at this point the both he and the Falcons are only interested in whether or not he can show enough on special teams to win a backup linebacker spot behind Akeem Dent.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford Are Healthy Competition for Each Other
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The Falcons have to like the fact that these two are forming a bond early on because both of them are going to have to contribute heavily this season.
Even though the Falcons nickelback is essentially a starter, I wouldn't expect either of these guys to gift wrap the starting cornerback opposite Asante Samuel to the other one.
Special Teams Play Will Most Likely Determine the Team's Depth at Linebacker
Guys Like Joplo Bartu Will Have To Stand Out On Special Teams In Camp
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As is usually the case in the NFL, players who demonstrate some special teams value will get the edge over other fringe players for the last spots on a team's 53-man roster.
The Falcons don't sound like they expect that to change much this year.
Mike Smith acknowledged as much when commenting on undrafted linebackers Nick Clancy and Joplo Bartu, saying via AtlantaFalcons.com that special teams is "really where those young linebackers will get their first opportunity to contribute."
The Falcons Expect Levine Toilolo to Be an Understudy to Tony Gonzalez
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Smith seemed to discount the notion that Levine Toilolo is only a blocking tight end by pointing out his receiving skills in the red zone when he was asked about the tight end's performance at camp.
Smith also mentioned that he's looking forward to seeing Toilolo get mentored by Tony Gonzalez.
Smith's comments offer some evidence into the role that the team envisions for Toilolo this year, and they also seem to indicate that the Falcons do see Toilolo as someone who can be groomed behind Gonzalez.