Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is slow to heap praise on any individual players. Even when he’s asked about a specific player, he typically mentions the player’s work ethic before bringing it back to the entire unit.
That’s why his comments on second-year defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham hold some significance after he had a solid performance against the Detroit Lions last week.
“I think he’s had a good camp,” said Smith. “Want to see that obviously on Sundays, but everything he’s done so far, he looks like he’s made a significant leap. Hopefully he shows up on the games.”
Graham was selected in the fifth-round of the 2021 NFL Draft and was forced into a starting role probably sooner than he was ready. He was outmatched at times last year as he was thrown right into the fire.
But against the Lions last week, he didn’t just look improved, he looked genuinely good.
“A significant leap” indeed.
At 6’4 and 295 pounds, the Falcons need his size on the line. With Anthony Rush, Grady Jarrett and an emerging Graham, the Falcons front three in defensive coordinator’s 3-4 should be stronger. He also has the size to play defensive tackle along with Jarrett when the Falcons are in a four-man front.
The Falcons and Jets completed their second-joint practice on Saturday afternoon ahead of their game on Monday, and they decided to go without pads on day two.
Smith and Jets head coach Robert Saleh made the decision together, and it’s the joint practices that let the teams focus on specific situations against a live opponent that you might not see in a game.
“I give Robert (Saleh) and his staff a lot of credit,” said Smith. “If you want to sit there and say ‘can both sides see a lot of man coverage’, because you want to see who can beat man on third down. You’re able to have that spirit of cooperation.”
Knowing that they weren’t in pads and that the situations were scripted, Smith wasn’t about to get too high or too low on what he saw against the Jets.
“You can put them in certain situations in the red zone; it’s hard to gauge the runs, because we know we’re not tackling,” said Smith. “So you run it down there, is it on the two, or did he score? Those are subjective.”
“That’s why I appreciate our staff. It’d be easy to holler every play like a cheerleader with a pom pom that you scored, but it’s all situational stuff taken with a grain of salt when you’re doing these practices.”
Smith and Saleh had a very logical reason for going no pads on day two of their joint practices.
“He (Saleh) just asked me. You look around and a lot of times the second day the injury rates tended to be higher. So we thought it was best for both teams to allow us to work man coverage stuff and what not.
The Falcons and Jets play on Monday Night Football at 8:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.