FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Drake London walked off the field at the Atlanta Falcons' practice facility last Tuesday drenched in sweat. This would be expected after any football practice, but this -- this was a bit different.
London, the Falcons’ first-round pick this year, hadn’t experienced anything like this. He grew up in California, played wide receiver at the University of Southern California and then ended up in the heat of Georgia, where the temperature reached nearly triple digits before humidity.
“This damn weather,” London said. “Definitely something I’ve got to get used to, I would say.”
London compared his offseason progress to how the weather went last Tuesday. Practice started, then thunderstorms delayed things an hour before the Falcons resumed in somehow more humid conditions. So his first month? Sunny and positive for a while and then bouts of bad weather/bad play for someone who hasn't been in a competitive team environment since last October, when he broke his ankle at USC.
Weather issues aside, and remember, the Falcons play home games indoors at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, although they practice outside in the heat, there were things Falcons coach Arthur Smith wanted his rookies to pick up throughout their time in organized team activities. Things he stressed to his first-year players (and all his players) throughout May and June.
“There’s more than one thing, but essentially the way we operate around here,” Smith said. “The habits that we want to enforce, the practice habits on the field. The way we teach and install, learn, really learn the language, that’s what you’re doing.”
Much of the OTA and minicamps were about installation -- really the only work in 11-on-11 periods was an installing process versus anything truly live, especially without contact or pads. It was getting acclimated to everything as a pro and trying to begin to build chemistry between players who haven’t worked together.
This began in rookie minicamp, when the Falcons had four of the team's offensive draft picks -- London, quarterback Desmond Ridder, running back Tyler Allgeier and tight end John FitzPatrick -- all room together in the dormitories at the Falcons' facility.
The acclimation was important, as was the start of figuring out everything the players would need to know in their transition from college to pro. And that’s what Ridder took out of the first month.
It wasn't, though, what surprised him the most. Nope. What stood out to him was an area he was succeeding at faster than he anticipated: learning the offense.
“I thought I was going to come in and kind of struggle a little bit,” Ridder said. “We’re almost all of the way through all our installs and, like I said, putting in all those checks. I got a good grasp of it, and that kind of surprised me, honestly.
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t have picked it up, but I thought it would have taken just a little bit longer.”
Ridder said he became more comfortable with his offensive knowledge during the last week of organized team activities -- the week before the two-day mandatory minicamp practices that closed the Falcons’ offseason program.
Everything, Ridder said, began to flow a bit easier. The playcalls started to come out of his mouth at a faster pace. He started seeing defensive coverages better, as well as understanding where his receivers were supposed to be and going to be.
That included London, who was picking up on his own nuances of route-running throughout the offseason. And the details were important. On Tuesday, after he dropped a pass during individual reps, he stopped to go back and redo the rep instead of shrugging it off.
“You’ve got to be in the right spot at the right time, lined up on your routes,” London said. “Cornerbacks, safeties, they have to be on the right track at the time too.”
Sometimes it’s the little things that help fill in the bigger picture.