Falcons rookie minicamp: 10 observations

May, 17, 2014
May 17
8:36
PM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman almost couldn't believe his ears.

The wide smile on the rookie's face showed how much he appreciated coach Mike Smith referring to him as an every-down back rather than just a change-of-pace back. Such is why the Falcons believe the fourth-round draft pick from Florida State could be the go-to back of the future, as long as he blocks well.

Catching the ball out of the backfield won't be an issue. Freeman showed that ability as he hauled in pass after pass during Saturday's session.

"I've got tremendous hands, but I feel like I need to work on blocking, running, my reads, being patient,'' Freeman said. "I feel like it's everything I need to work on. But the passing, I know I can catch very well. But I want to work on it."

Here are 10 others observations from the second day of rookie minicamp:

1) Prince Shembo, the outside linebacker from Notre Dame and the team's second fourth-round pick, showed tremendous explosiveness throughout the day. Smith talked about Shembo having the ability to play defensive end, outside linebacker, and inside linebacker in a multiple defense.

2) It appeared as if second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman, the defensive end from Minnesota, knocked down a pass during one drill. The Falcons hope Hageman makes a habit of batting down balls at the line of scrimmage.

3) Seventh-round pick Tyler Starr, the outside linebacker from South Dakota, showed some speed on his rush during full-team drills.

4) Undrafted quarterback Jeff Mathews again threw some nice balls, but his receivers had a lot of drops throughout the day. Mathews did overthrow a couple.

5) Receiver Julian Jones almost lost an eyeball after making a catch over the middle. A defender scraped him across the face.

6) Cornerback Ricardo Allen, the fifth-round pick from Purdue, was very conscious about working on his backpedal and footwork in between drills.

7) Freeman showed some speed in outracing Allen and fellow cornerback L.J. Jones to the end zone on one play. Jones is a tryout player from Fresno State.

8) Shembo, Starr, and undrafted signee Jacques Smith from Tennessee -- all outside linebackers -- were the last ones off the field as they stayed to get in some extra work. Don't be surprised if all three are contributors this coming season.

9) Speaking of Shembo, he was forced to do some up-downs midway through practice, although it was unclear what the punishment was for. Defensive line coach Bryan Cox also had defensive lineman Ryan Isaac doing the same at the end of practice. Isaac is a tryout player from Purdue.

10) In news unrelated to the rookies, Smith didn't seem too concerned about the status of receiver Julio Jones (foot surgery) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee sprain) coming off injuries as Smith again emphasized taking it slow with those players this offseason. In other words, don't expect to see Jones or Weatherspoon do much activity until training camp.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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