The Atlanta Falcons began their training camp on the 31st of July, exactly a week ago today. They have the morning off but will be taking part in the annual Friday Night Lights at Buford High, which includes a live scrimmage along with many other fan interaction events.
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Players such as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant and rookie Vic Beasley have generated a lot of praise for their work so far, but we already know what the former 3 bring onto the field and we know Beasley’s speed will remain elite at this level too.
Rather, we want to hear of players who are performing far above expectations. It is still early so it’s important not to get carried away but the four biggest surprises so far, and players who could impact this upcoming season, are Jacob Tamme, Levine Toilolo, Leonard Hankerson and Adrian Clayborn.
Tight end Jacob Tamme was signed as a free agent but appeared to be a band-aid for the position rather than a solution, similar to the team’s decision to go with Toilolo and Bear Pascoe as the top two tight ends last season. Tamme has only managed 293 receiving yards the last two seasons combined, despite only missing 1 game.
However, Tamme has reportedly been very impressive so far and could have a sizeable role in the offense if he can carry this form into the regular season.
Levine Toilolo won’t make it easy for him anyhow as he sounds like he’s a completely different player heading into his 3rd season. It would be awfully difficult trying to construct a highlight reel of Toilolo’s career that lasts longer than 20 seconds. He can be excused for being behind Tony Gonzalez his rookie season but last season actually saw him run more routes than Rob Gronkowski, yet it only resulted in 238 receiving yards.
He’s had problems with both catching and blocking but he has shined in these two disciplines this time around.
It will be interesting to see Toilolo in the preseason games as the signings of Tamme and Tony Moeaki seems to have lit a fire in him. I wouldn’t expect too much but Toilolo definitely wasn’t a name I was expecting to be attached to a high amount of praise.
The next surprise is another receiver, Leonard Hankerson. Some have said he has even looked like the best wide receiver altogether throughout the first week. Like Tamme, he was signed as a free agent and hasn’t had much recent production to his name. He spent last season getting over his torn ACL as he only appeared in 1 game.
He seems to be over it and made a big impression in OTAs before building on that in training camp.
"“Hankerson, who played for the Redskins when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan held the same job in Washington, has been the best wide receiver at Flowery Branch thus far.”“He’s made his presence felt on the outside and over the middle; he’s displayed great hands; and, perhaps most importantly, he seems to be gaining the trust of Matt Ryan.”"
With Roddy White’s stunning decline, it might be sooner rather than later that the Falcons’ all-time record holder in all major receiving statistics calls it a career. He turns 34 in November and has had knee problems surface over the last 2 years. If Hankerson is as good as the hype, don’t be surprised if he ends the season as the No. 2 wideout.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is the only one of the four that comes on the defensive side of the ball. He worked with renown defensive lineman guru and one-time All-Pro Chuck Smith, who has a history with helping out top level football players improve their games.
Clayborn has a relentless mentality and he typifies what Dan Quinn looks for in his players. He figures to be a valuable player for the Falcons this year, alternating between defensive end and defensive tackle depending on situation. He will play similarly to how Quinn used Michael Bennett, another former Buccaneer who has really made his name as a Seahawk with his ferociousness against the pass and run.
The team hopes for the same from Clayborn and he has shown flashes he’s capable of being an impact player.
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