Falcons QB Michael Penix Jr. 'Really Special' in OTAs, has 'Great' Relationship with Kirk Cousins

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is a month into his working relationship with Kirk Cousins.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has drawn praise from teammates and coaches for his start in OTAs.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has drawn praise from teammates and coaches for his start in OTAs. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When the Atlanta Falcons go through team periods during OTAs, only one field is in use. While 22 players hit the field, the rest of the roster watches, some on the sidelines and others from behind the play.

For Falcons rookie quarterback Michael Penix Jr., being removed from the play isn't time wasted. Instead, it's an opportunity to development and learn from four-time Pro Bowl signal caller Kirk Cousins.

Falcons head coach Raheem Morris previously called Cousins an ideal mentor for Penix, who was selected No. 8 overall in April's draft just a month and a half after Cousins signed a four-year deal worth up to $180 million. Atlanta's vision is for Cousins to be the present and Penix the future.

Thus far, one month into their working relationship, Penix is capitalizing on the opportunity.


"I think it's been fun to watch him learn from Kirk," Morris said Monday in Flowery Branch. "I think the cool part is him being in the background, being able to process, watching Kirk go through his way of doing his deal and be his authentic self. When (Cousins) calls a play, he's able to inject his personality into the play call with the guys when they come out of the huddle."

Morris added Penix isn't yet at the point where he's putting his own flavor on play calls, and likely won't reach that level until he gets more comfortable.

But Morris thinks Penix is getting a special opportunity to sit behind Cousins and watch him make the play call his own, which the Falcons believe will eventually prove valuable for the 24-year-old.

"I like the way Mike's been able to take that from him," Morris said. "Being able to see how he relates it to his guys and gets them out there and breaks the huddle and to break the snap and come out with efficiency, and to be able to throw the ball where it needs to go."

The Falcons' rookies started far behind the 8-ball, as meetings between coaches and those already on the roster began April 2. To help bridge the gap, teams get additional time to work with rookies in the afternoon.

For the first-year players, days are long, and the offseason process is even longer. Penix, for instance, played in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 8, practiced at the Reese's Senior Bowl roughly three weeks later, attended the NFL Combine four weeks after that. He then entered the process of pro day training and pre-draft interviews.

The Falcons drafted Penix on April 25. He arrived in Flowery Branch on May 9, one day before the start of rookie minicamp, which lasted until May 12. Atlanta started OTAs the next day.

Falcons quarterbacks coach T.J. Yates said Wednesday that rookies like Penix won't have time to sit back and reevaluate until next offseason, prompting the former University of Washington standout to balance how much he learns and take advantage of mental breaks when he can.

Yates, who spent seven years as an NFL quarterback, said the rookie wall is real, but Penix has navigated his first month well, learning how to be a professional signal caller as much off the field as on it.

"He's been great so far," Yates said. "He's been so open to learn everything and eager to learn. He's working his butt off."

On Monday morning, Morris and Atlanta's offensive staff discussed exactly that - Penix and his constant consumption of information.

During practice, after Penix's passes are thrown and caught, he checks the rest of the field, going through each of his remaining progressions. Then, he'll go to either Yates, offensive coordinator Zac Robinson or assistant quarterbacks coach D.J. Williams to get immediate feedback.

This, Morris believes, is a green light on Penix's development.

"I like what he's grown into," Morris said. "That's really special when you're talking about a rookie growing and developing and knowing what he should do, what he could do, even after the fact, with his self-corrections."

During seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 periods, Cousins functions with the starters while Penix gets extensive second-team reps. The 35-year-old passer is considerably ahead of his young teammate, the gap one expects from a 12-year proven veteran to a rookie.

Cousins is precise and decisive with his passes, Penix perhaps more erratic.

But the Falcons don't need Penix to be where Cousins is presently - they just need him to learn, so when his time comes, he's ready to validate the organization's lofty pre-draft confidence.

Due to the situation's dynamics, questions emerged about whether Cousins and Penix could thrive in the same quarterback environment. To date, there are no such relationship problems, and none appear looming on the horizon.

"It's been great," Cousins said. "You know, it continues to be kind of that working force together. There's so much we all are kind of having to learn right now and grow together in. And so, we're doing that. Michael's doing great."

The Falcons finished OTAs on Thursday and now turn to mandatory minicamp, spanning June 10-12. They'll break for the summer thereafter, not returning to Flowery Branch until training camp in late July.

But the work won't stop for Penix, who Yates said is already looking forward to being back for camp and starting his rookie season.

Yates is pleased with Penix's start, dubbing his offseason as "strong," but there's still plenty left to do. For now, though, the initial launch has gone smooth. The next month will be less strenuous than the last - but still filled with homework sparked by organizational intent to better set up the next generation of Falcons football.

"With Mike, everything's a learning process," Yates said. "We're going to continue to give him a whole packet of information when he gets out of here and make sure he's studying, making sure he's up to date."


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Daniel Flick

DANIEL FLICK

Daniel Flick is an accredited NFL writer for Sports Illustrated's FanNation. Daniel has provided boots-on-ground coverage at the NFL Combine and from the Atlanta Falcons' headquarters, among other destinations, and contributed to the annual Lindy's Sports Magazine ahead of the 2023 offseason. Daniel is a co-host on the 404TheFalcon podcast and previously wrote for the Around the Block Network and Georgia Sports Hospitality Media.