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University of Washington Huskies Football

Michael Penix Jr.’s arm is the draw at Falcons rookie minicamp: ‘He’s awesome’

By Josh Kendall Athletic

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Atlanta Falcons rookie minicamp started Friday. Michael Penix Jr. started work Thursday afternoon.

Penix, the No. 8 pick in the draft and the Falcons’ quarterback of the future, arrived at the team facility Thursday and was planning to spend some time on the field walking through the script for the first practice, which started at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

“I was about to go by myself and I was like, ‘How does that make me a leader if I don’t bring other people along?’ So I texted the group chat and the whole crew came out,” the University of Washington product said. “I knew I was very confident in the playbook and the script we had today and some of those guys just got the script yesterday, so it was just to allow the other guys to get comfortable.”

The “whole crew” included most of the offensive players among the 40 players participating in rookie minicamp. The three-day session includes 18 draft picks and undrafted free agents, 13 tryout players, eight veteran invitees from the Falcons’ 2023 roster and international player Kenny Oginni, although sixth-round running back Jase McClellan didn’t participate in Friday’s practice because of a predraft injury.

“He’s awesome,” wide receiver and sixth-round pick Casey Washington said of Penix and his leadership style.

Starting Monday, Penix will have to balance his leadership style against that of veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins, the free-agency addition head coach Raheem Morris says is Atlanta’s starter despite Penix’s selection in the top 10 of the draft. The Falcons’ OTA offseason workouts begin Monday, marking the first time Penix and Cousins will be on the field together. Cousins spent much of Friday in the building preparing for OTAs. In the afternoon, he walked from the team’s main building to its locker room along with wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts, descending a short but steep bank with no issues.

Cousins, who is returning from a torn Achilles tendon, is expected to be a full participant in all the team’s offseason activities, although Morris pointed out that doesn’t include any contact or even on-field scenarios in which a teammate might fall near his ankles or feet.

“Kirk is every day improving,” Morris said. “He’s doing everything we can do at this point in Phase II. He’s been throwing. He’s been out there pretty much full go. We will limit what he does as far as the amount, not what he’s doing. It’s not like training camp where I’m worried about people being around his feet. We feel really good about where he’s at right now.”

Cousins and Penix met in person for the first time Friday morning before the rookie’s first official practice.

“He said he was happy to have me here, and I told him I can’t wait to work with him,” Penix said. “It’s definitely going to be great. I am super blessed to be right here in this position right now with a veteran in front of me, just learning from him and going about my business each and every day and finding a way to improve and get to where he is. We have the same goals, and that’s to see the team win football games.”

After turning 24 on Wednesday, Penix is older than seven quarterbacks who started NFL games last season, but he said he’s not in a hurry to assert himself in the leadership hierarchy.

“I don’t feel like I have to try to be anybody else or go overboard to prove my leadership, just be myself and lead by example, and whenever the right time comes just be able to talk to the guys and spit a few lines to the guys and help everybody improve,” he said.

When the Falcons’ rookies got on the field Friday, Penix was the center of attention and the left-hander exhibited the same type of arm strength he displayed in college, zipping the ball through the hands of teammates and coaches several times in drills before team work.

“At this level, everybody is in the spotlight,” Penix said. “That’s the beauty of this game. I’m just going to be myself each and every day. I just want to go out there and improve. It’s something that I have been dreaming about since I was a kid, and now that I’m here, I just want to go out and prove myself every day and show not just myself but my team that I am here to work and help this team win football games any way I can.”

Morris stressed that be-yourself approach to all his rookies before minicamp.

“My main agenda is just to get them acclimated, just get them into a rhythm and a flow about what we’ve been doing,” the coach said. “I told these guys just go out there and be the best version of who you are. That’s why we got you. It’s not just Penix, it’s all of those guys.”

Several of the rookies acknowledged that it took them a minute to remember that lesson after walking into an NFL locker room for the first time.

“It doesn’t even feel real,” defensive lineman Ruke Orhorhoro said. “I keep calling my dad like, ‘Dad this is real right now.’ ”