FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons had one of their projected starting defensive backs carted off the practice field Friday during training camp.
Cornerback Jeff Okudah went down after breaking up a pass attempt from quarterback Desmond Ridder to wide receiver Frank Darby in one-on-one drills. Okudah was unable to get up on his own, which drew the attention of the Falcons’ medical staff. While being transported to the locker room, an athletic trainer was tending to Okudah’s right ankle.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith had no firm update on Okudah after practice beyond confirming it was indeed an ankle injury.
“We’ll have more once he gets done with an MRI,” Smith said. “Hopefully, it’s optimistic and he’ll be back out there, but that’s kind of where we’re at. I hate to be that vague. It isn’t the time to be vague for competitive edge or whatever.”
Okudah joined the Falcons this offseason, having been traded from the Detroit Lions to Atlanta for a fifth-round draft pick. The Lions originally drafted Okudah with the No. 3 overall pick in 2020 out of Ohio State.
Last season, Okudah appeared in career-high 15 games with 73 tackles, seven pass breakups, and a forced fumble. The one interception he snagged against the Chicago Bears, he returned for a 20-yard touchdown.
Okudah spent part of 2020 and most of 2021 on injured reserve.
“The journey is not over,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, Jeff has had some injuries. And I say this all the time, sometimes it’s not just physical rehab; it’s mental. There are a lot of obstacles you have to overcome. We’re mindful of that. Hopefully we get good news out of the MRI, and then we’ll just take it from there.”
Smith was mindful of those beyond Okudah, too.
Once Okudah was gone, Smith took a moment to check in on his defensive teammates. He thought some would need to process what happened in their own way. And he was right. Members of the secondary and linebacker group came together, took a knee and prayed.
“It’s a close team,” Smith said. “Sometimes you see things. Unfortunately, we’ve seen stuff. When things are an obvious fracture, those are hard to look at. It wasn’t anything like that, thankfully. But they care about their teammate.”
In Okudah’s absence, Tre Flowers lined up at cornerback opposite A.J. Terrell during seven-on-seven work. That left Cornell Armstrong and Clark Phillips with the second team.
Dee Alford and Mike Hughes then worked in the slot position in the Falcons’ nickel package.
“Tre has experience, he’s a veteran, and he has played multiple roles,” Smith said. “But he’s just one of the guys that’s competing really good out there. Cornell Armstrong. Clark (Phillips III). Mike (Hughes). Dee (Alford). We’ve got a lot of depth at a lot of spots.
“Hopefully, we get good news on Jeff. But we feel like we have good depth and good competition.”
Roll call: Offensive lineman Matt Hennessy and tight end Jonnu Smith were the only active Falcons members missing from Friday’s practice. Fullback Keith Smith and running back Cordarrelle Patterson were back out there after taking Wednesday off with veteran rest days. … Defensive lineman Calais Campbell remains on the non-football injury list, while running back Avery Williams and offensive lineman Ethan Greenidge are on injured reserve. Greenidge was placed Thursday on IR.
Familiar face: Former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attended Friday’s practice with his 5-year-old twins, Marshall Thomas and John Matthew. While the player himself was dressed down in a black T-shirt, the youngsters were each sporting their father’s old No. 2 jersey. They hung out on the field rather than in the stands.
The elder Ryan, of course, played in Atlanta from 2008-21 before getting traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2022. Friday marked Ryan’s first visit back to the Falcons’ facility since then and since the news Ryan will be working as an analyst for CBS Sports in 2023.
Ryan was apparently supposed to come by in the spring but never made it.
“I don’t know what he’s doing,” Smith said. “Getting ready for TV, I’m sure. I don’t know if he got a new wardrobe, stylist or something.
“We love Matt. I enjoyed the hell out of the year I got to work with him. Dave (Ragone, offensive coordinator) and I stay in touch with him. We have kids the similar age. He doesn’t live that far from me. I love having Matt out here.”
Smith isn’t the only one.
“It was good seeing Matt,” Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett said. “I’d seen him in the locker room. He came out as a surprise, he and the boys. That’s one of the best quarterbacks to come through here, ever. Falcons legend. Love Matt, always loved Matt.”
Touchdown time: The Falcons were red hot in the red zone Friday. Well, for the most part. All three quarterback were given three plays, and only one really struggled.
— Incomplete pass to running back Bijan Robinson (pass breakup by safety Richie Grant)
— Touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Pitts
— Touchdown pass to MyCole Pruitt
— Touchdown pass to running back Carlos Washington Jr.
— Touchdown pass tight end Parker Hesse
— Touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Ali
— Sacked by defensive lineman Kemoko Turay
— Incomplete pass to wide receiver Slade Bolden
— Incomplete pass to wide receiver Zay Malone
“You obviously have a lot of different things you can do down there, but you need to be able to work with what I call some obvious pass situations,” Smith said. “You get into critical downs in the game. Like an obvious pass would be third-and-8 down there. We worked some fourth-and-6, fourth-and-5. Things like that to put a little stress, the best we can manufacture.
“I thought, offensively, we looked pretty clean.”
Extra tidbits: DL Grady Jarrett had a strip sack on Ridder. LB Kaden Elliss recovered the fumble. … WR Mack Hollins made an impressive catch along the sideline against CB A.J. Terrell in seven-on-seven drills. QB Desmond Ridder threw the deep pass. … WR Keilahn Harris and WR Xavier Malone rotated as kick returners on special teams.