Flowery Branch - Fans were back at the Atlanta Falcons' Flowery Branch training facility for the first time in nearly two years. The hill was packed with people ... and they saw a day dominated by the defense.
Whether by design or by function, quarterbacks Matt Ryan, A.J. McCarron and Feleipe Franks rarely, if ever tested the back third of the defense. It was a day filled almost exclusively with short and intermediate passes.
With less room to operate, the linebackers and secondary made several standout plays during team passing drills.
Linebacker Mykal Walker finished the opening one-on-ones with the top play. Walker stepped in front of a pass intended for rookie running back Caleb Huntley in what would have been a sure pick-six.
Walker was named to the PFF All-Rookie Team in large part because of his ability in coverage last season.
Fellow linebacker Deion Jones is no stranger to interceptions. Jones is on the verge of making history with his penchant for returning interceptions for touchdowns.
On the second play of seven-vs-sevens, good coverage forced Ryan to delay and throw a pass over the middle. Jones tipped the ball straight up and brought it down for the interception.
Second-year cornerback Chris Williamson had a day to remember as well. Williamson intercepted McCarron on a throwback screen that was too high and through the intended receiver's hands. It would have been another pick-six for the defense.
Williamson followed that good work a few plays later when he closed on Ryan Becker in the flats and punched the ball out and recovered the fumble.
Williamson was drafted by the New York Giants in the seventh round last year. He was signed to the Falcons practice squad in December. He has good size at 6-0 and 205 pounds and helped his chances of making the 53-man roster today.
Cornerback Kendall Sheffield also made an athletic play when he broke up a pass intended for Kyle Pitts up the left seam. Just 5-10 compared to Pitts' 6-6, Sheffield broke under Ryan's throw.
The day wasn't entirely for the defense, though.
Cordarrelle Patterson was signed mainly because he's an All-Pro kick returner, but at 6-2 and 220 pounds, he's getting a genuine look at running back.
It looks a little strange seeing No. 84 lined up in the backfield, but he hits the hole with confidence, what appears to be natural vision, and quickness.
He also poses a match-up problem when he motions out of the backfield and splits wide. Obviously, he'll be a better pass-catcher than many of the running backs in the league.
It's tough to get a feel for the running game before the pads come on, but the offense had its best success running left behind tackle Jake Matthews.
Matthews sealed the edge well and Patterson in particular had success getting outside.
Rookie running back Javion Hawkins had arguably the best play of the day for the offense. He started left, cut back right and found a lot of daylight running away from the front seven.
*Any doubt about the role tight end Lee Smith has with this team should be put to rest. Signed mainly because of his blocking skills, Smith went with the offensive linemen when the Falcons broke into individual drills.
*Rookie Avery Williams, receivers Chris Rowland and Austin Trammell fielded punts. Williams is the presumed No. 1 once the season starts, but Rowland and Trammell looked confident.
*Where will Kyle Pitts line up? Where won't he? Pitts was all over the field pre-snap, and then he was put in motion. Pitts lined up wide-right, wide-left, isolated, both sides of the line of scrimmage at tight end, and inside when the Falcons brought two tight ends to one side.
*The offense took an early lap after getting false-start penalties two of the first four plays. As they passed the fans, they received cheers and jeers. Cheers from fans happy to see them and jeers from fans who understood why they were running.
*Newly-signed wide receiver J'Mon Moore saw his first action. At a listed 6-3 and 205 pounds, he looked considerably bigger than the rest of Falcons receivers. It's easy to see why Atlanta brought him in to camp. He brings a different profile to the position than Calvin Ridley (6-1/190), Russell Gage (6-0/184), and Olamide Zaccheaus (5-8/193).
*Matt Ryan is the unquestioned starter going into the season, and A.J. McCarron and rookie Feleipe Franks did little at camp today to stir thoughts of a quarterback competition.
The Falcons return to practice Sunday morning at 9:30. Like today, the session is open to the public.