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Falcons rookie minicamp: QB Desmond Ridder is already pushing his new teammates

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons’ eight rookie draft picks stepped onto an NFL practice field for the first time Friday. Quarterback Desmond Ridder was not impressed.

“He pulled us over (after Friday’s practice) and was like, ‘We messed up a lot today,’” wide receiver Drake London said. “That’s part of being a rookie and Day 1, but he brought us over there and was like, ‘We’ve got to get this shit together.’ Excuse my language, but that’s just the leader he is.”

Fifty-three players participated in Atlanta’s rookie minicamp this week, including the Falcons’ eight draft picks, 13 undrafted free-agent signees, 26 tryout players and six players already on the roster. All the participants are staying in the dormitories at the team’s practice facility, where London, Ridder, running back Tyler Allgeier and tight end John FitzPatrick are rooming together.

“We have been going over plays, chopping it up,” London said. “(Ridder’s) just like me, we’re on the same mission, I’m happy we came in together.”

Along with emerging as a team leader in the first two days of his professional career, Ridder is making sure his suitemates are up and at the team facility early.

“I told Desmond don’t be so loud in the morning,” FitzPatrick said. “He’s like jumping around the room. I don’t know, he’s just loud. I had to tell him to quiet down. It’s like a bull in a china shop. I don’t even know what to say. He said he’ll work on it.”

A combined hour of Friday’s and Saturday’s practices were open to the media. That included some 11-on-11 walkthrough snaps but no one-on-one work, which makes it all but impossible to get a feel for the things that were question marks for the players coming into the draft. Things like London’s speed and Ridder’s accuracy.

“We’re going to build these guys up. I view it really as more of a rookie orientation,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “We’re not in pads, we’re not tackling, we’re not doing one-on-ones. A lot of it is more mental. They wouldn’t be out here if we didn’t think they had the physical skill set, but you do get to evaluate how they can take things we are teaching and bring it to life on the field. It’s not real football until we get into late July and August.”

Still, there were some observations to be made and things to be learned in the first in-person interviews of the rookie’s careers so let’s go through the list.

Drake London, WR, No. 8 pick

The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder is indeed tall. He stood out immediately in a receiving group that doesn’t yet include veterans like 6-6 Kyle Pitts, 6-5 Auden Tate and 6-2 Cordarrelle Patterson. (Not to mention 6-3 Bryan Edwards, who the Falcons traded for on Friday.) London moves with the easy athleticism you would expect from a former college basketball player.

“He’s fast and he’s big and he’s smart,” Ridder said.

London was a full participant in the workouts, which had been a question considering the broken ankle he suffered in the eighth game of the season last year.

Arnold Ebiketie, edge, No. 38 pick

Ebiketie’s arms are 34 1/8 inches long, which was the fourth-longest among edge rushers who attended the NFL Scouting Combine this year, and it’s one of the first things you notice about him as he walks on the field.

Those long arms should help the Penn State product keep blockers away from his body while rushing the passer, but it was impossible the last two days to see how good Ebiketie might be at that due to the lack of full-contact work.

Ebikitie has been focusing on mastering his two-point stance this week because he’ll be lined up that way 90 percent of the time in Atlanta after spending more than half his college career lined up on the line of scrimmage at defensive end, he said.

“So far it’s going great,” he said. “I’m just happy to be out here. Just being out here practicing and getting better, couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Troy Andersen, LB, No. 58 pick

The Montana State product said his biggest adjustment so far was trying to learn the playbook. The second-biggest adjustment? Just finding his way around.

“Nobody knows what doors lead to where in the building,” he said. “We’re all figuring it out together.”

Andersen didn’t have a chance to flash his 4.42 speed during the portion of the workouts open to the media.

“The game is so fast these days to be able to run with tight ends and back, you need to have short-area quickness and long speed as well,” Andersen said. “Hopefully, my athletic skill set can help me with that.”

Desmond Ridder, QB, No. 74 pick

Ridder’s arm didn’t get much work during the open portions of the practice, but his voice did. During 11-on-11 drills Friday, Ridder could clearly be heard from 50 yards away barking at his teammates to “get set” multiple times.

Ridder’s vocal leadership “is one of the characteristics we liked about him,” Smith said. “If he got here and was mute, I’d be a little concerned. I guess he passed Day 1.”

Ridder admitted he was unhappy with the team’s first practice.

“I’m not going to say I was thrilled with today, but today went a lot better than yesterday,” he said Saturday.

Ridder had between “five and seven” Zoom sessions with Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London before arriving for minicamp, he said.

“I’m in the playbook 24/7 so I’ve got it down pretty good,” he said. “When (teammates) come up to me and ask questions and I’m able to fire it back real quick and them to understand I have a good grasp of the offense, that builds trust.”

DeAngelo Malone, edge, No. 82 pick

The 243-pound Malone, who has added 50 pounds to his frame since graduating from high school, described his game as “fast, physical, very versatile, just one of a kind.”

Tyler Allgeier, RB, No. 151 pick

The 5-10, 224-pound Allgeier is about half as wide as he is tall.

“I like to think I’m 5-11 on a good day,” he quipped.

Justin Shaffer, OL, No. 190 pick

It’s impossible to get a read on interior linemen without seeing any full-contact work, but Shaffer was at least having a good time Friday. He conducted a mock interview with Malone, his first cousin and former teammate at Cedar Grove High in Atlanta, following practice.

“(Thursday), when I tried on my helmet it really hit me that, ‘Wow, I’m in the NFL,’” Shaffer said.

John FitzPatrick, TE, No. 213 pick

The 6-7, 250-pound FitzPatrick said he’s happy to take over the blocking tight end role held by Lee Smith last season, but he thinks he can do more than that if asked.

“I wouldn’t put any label on it,” he said. “(Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone) talks about positionless football so whatever they ask me to do. My head was spinning the first day, but I’m getting better. It’s just being able to take coaching and bring that back to the field the next day.”

London emphasized how much responsibility this rookie class wants to take in helping key the Falcons rebuild, referring to the group as “the new juice in the area.”

“To be building up a club with these guys is really special,” he said, “and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

His end goals for Atlanta’s turnaround are aggressive.

“Super Bowl, yellow jackets,” he said. “You can name all the crazy things you want to name.”

(Photo: John Bazemore / Associated Press)

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