by Sean Nerny
If I had to come up with a slogan for this year’s Mini Camp, it would be “Jump Right In”. Dan Quinn and company must have had something similar in mind when the whistle blew Tuesday morning in Flowery Branch.
Because full contact is forbidden during Mini Camp, coaches use practice time to throw the playbook at players, many of them for the first time. From day one rookies Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and De’Vondre Campbell lined up with the starting defense, while late round pick G Wes Schweitzer saw plenty of snaps on the first team offensive line. Neal was expected to start right away, but Campbell was considered a project coming out of the draft and Jones is learning a new position at MLB. If Campbell turns out to be a quick learner, he has a chance to see significant playing time next season, while Jones is competing with veteran Paul Worrilow. In week one it is likely that Jones will see most of his playing time on third down, where the team can utilize his speed.
Second year LB Vic Beasley was featured in the nickel package during camp, while vet Philip Wheeler lined up as starting strong side LB in the base defense. While the move to LB may allow Beasley more space to rush the QB, last year’s first round pick struggled against the run last season and may see most of his playing time on passing downs.
Not to kill the mood but we all remember the debacle that was the Falcons offensive line last year. The front office was still making moves during the preseason, desperately trying to concoct something resembling an NFL caliber line. This year things look a bit different. Matthews, Levitre, Mack and Schraeder all seem settled into the first team, as Mike Person, Chris Chester, Tom Compton and rookie Wes Schweitzer are competing for the RG spot.
One position group that was thrust into chaos recently was cornerback. Jalen Collins is set to miss the first four weeks of the season for testing positive for PEDs, making an already thin CB group fully emaciated. On day one, second year man Akeem King lined up opposite Desmond Trufant, with Robert Alford playing the nickel. King showed promise last season but is definitely lacking experience. One of the good stories from camp originates from the CB group as well. Ex Steelers WR C.J. Goodwin recently converted to CB and has turned some heads during camp, picking off a couple of balls over the three days of practice. His solid play has given the coaching staff plenty to think about, and the lack of depth at CB may very well influence their decision.
Neither of the team’s projected return men, Devin Hester and rookie Devin Fuller, suited up for Mini Camp as they nursed injuries. By this point I am used to not seeing Hester on the field but Fuller needs all the practice time he can get. Lineman James Stone also sat out camp but overall, the Falcons look like a healthy club.