The Atlanta Falcons coaching staff has wasted no time in establishing a physical brand of play from its North squad. The intensity and physicality picked up a notch or two compared to Monday’s practices, particularly within the defensive line position group and during one-on-one drills between both the defensive backs and cornerbacks in passing drills and the linebackers and running backs in pass protection drills.
This physical nature of play should be no surprise considering the personnel on the Falcons coaching staff, such as head coach Mike Smith, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and offensive line coach Mike Tice, just to name a few. But it was still a notable change from Monday’s work for me and it makes these practices more enlightening and entertaining.
Here are a few more observations from Tuesday’s North practice…
-- Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas impressed on Monday with his pinpoint accuracy. Many have criticized this part of Thomas’ game, so his performance on Monday was a big step in the right direction for Thomas with the entire League on-hand in Mobile to watch these practices. In the early stages of Tuesday’s practice, Thomas was looking sharp again. As practice wore on and got to the later stages, though, inaccuracy crept up on Thomas, something the quarterback himself acknowledged to reporters while meeting with them after practice.
-- The other two quarterbacks – Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Miami’s Stephen Morris – had their ups and downs on Tuesday, as well. Boyd does not look comfortable under center, but I think he’s done a nice job with his velocity and placement on short and intermediate throws. Morris was criticized by some for his poor placement in Monday’s practice, but that was improved on Tuesday. He gets the ball out on time and has good pocket presence, but he often times doesn’t throw a tight spiral, particularly on deep passes that require some touch.
-- Defensive tackles Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh) and Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) followed up impressive Monday performances with similarly impressive Tuesday showings. Both tackles have great first steps, particularly Hageman, and both turn quickness to power efficiently, particularly Donald. Two other defensive linemen who flashed on Tuesday were Penn State tackle DaQuan Jones (pictured, left), who is good with inside power moves, and Virginia Tech end James Gayle, who demonstrated his athleticism on one play by holding contain on a wide pitch to a running back and then later in practice on a play where he scraped down the line of scrimmage from the weak side to force a running back out of bounds before he could gain positive yardage.
-- The offensive line play has been uneven for the North through two practices, probably not an unusual reality for a position group that relies on cohesion but is playing with unfamiliar teammates. Cretin-Derham Hall product Seantrel Henderson (Miami) looks better to me at right tackle than left, and the top performing tackle in my eyes during drills has actually been a player listed as a guard – Michigan’s Michael Schofield. Miami guard Brandon Linder wins his fair share of one-on-ones, but when he struggles it’s because he absorbs the first punch rather than giving it. Baylor guard Cyril Richardson has struggled at times through two practices, but you can tell he’s competitive and he always bounces back well from a bad play. Things didn’t go his way during one-on-one pass rush drills early in practice, but he responded during the next period by executing two consecutive dominant blocks on a run play and then on a pass play.
-- On Monday, while most observers were buzzing about Oregon receiver Josh Huff (pictured, right), I wrote about Wyoming receiver Robert Herron and even slapped a TY Hilton comparison on him. Tuesday’s practice did not reaffirm my observation. Huff continued to stand out in his position group and Herron struggled with a few drops and at times looked uncomfortable settling under the ball.
-- Lastly, Tuesday was a great showing by three Big 10 linebackers. Wisconsin’s Chris Borland was a star on Monday and was solid on Tuesday, but it was Illinois’ Jonathan Brown and Iowa’s Christian Kirksey who were nearly as impressive on Tuesday. Both flashed during the 9-on-7 running drill, penetrating on some plays and holding their water enough to stick their nose in on tackles in other situations. Then during the one-on-one pass rush drill with running backs, Kirksey demonstrated some savvy with his moves and plenty of explosion in finishing the play.