'Seen Good Things': Raheem Morris Evaluates Atlanta Falcons Rookies at OTAs

The Atlanta Falcons' rookie class has impressed head coach Raheem Morris.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris is optimistic about the team's rookie class.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris is optimistic about the team's rookie class. /
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Raheem Morris is the Atlanta Falcons' head coach, not a politician - but he gave a diplomatic answer discussing the standouts of his team's rookie class after OTAs and minicamp.

“It’ll be hard to say that any one wasn’t standing out," Morris said. "When you get around this group and you get a chance to get those guys out there, and you see them execute – we’ve been able to do some two-field things to get them onto different fields to watch guys do things that we love."

The Falcons put first- and second-team players on one field and third- and fourth-team players on another, though some, like sixth-round rookie receiver Casey Washington, worked their way onto the top field during the early phase of summer workouts.

Much of the focus on Atlanta's rookie class has centered around quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who Morris praised for his eagerness to learn from veteran passer Kirk Cousins.

But of the Falcons' eight draft picks, five came on defense, with four playing on the line of scrimmage and the other - linebacker JD Bertrand - still a heavy-contact player. As such, takeaways on their starts are incomplete, as pads won't come on until training camp in late July.

Still, from undrafted free agents and late signees like receiver OJ Hiliare to highly touted prospects like Penix, Morris's early optimism on the fresh batch of rookies isn't limited.

"We’ve seen good things from all of them," Morris said. "We’ve seen things that we need to improve. We’ve seen corrections across the board. It’s been a lot of fun with all of those guys, and those guys going out there showing us who they are and what they’ve been.

"And taking it almost to another level when they get a chance to get their opportunities, whether it be on the one’s field or the two’s field, it’s been fun to watch."

Many of the Falcons' rookies arrived in Flowery Branch on May 9, the day before rookie minicamp, which ran from May 10-12. Over the next month, they went through OTAs and veteran minicamp.

During this phase of the summer, rookies get additional time in the meeting rooms with their position coaches. There are extensive hours spent trying to lessen the learning curve created by a one-month headstart given to the veterans in April.

All the while, the rookies are adjusting to life in their new home city and without school to occupy their time. This, Morris said, creates a natural transition period for the first-year players.

"The game becomes an above-the-neck game," Morris said. "Knowing situations, how you play, when you play that way, what calls make you be free, what calls make you reckless, what calls make you play with a certain discipline, what it takes and requires to win the football game."

The six-week gap between the end of minicamp June 12 and the arrival for training camp July 24 are the first period of extensive down time for rookies since last summer - before their final college season, the pre-draft process and the first month and a half of their professional career.

When pads come on, separation will occur. It's not a matter of if someone capitalizes, but who - and the answer grows closer by the day.


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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.