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Getty Mykal Walker has hyped one member of the Falcons' 2022 draft class.

Mykal Walker has been an ever-present through two games for the Atlanta Falcons’ defense this season. The third-year pro is building his reputation, but Walker is more impressed by a fellow inside linebacker.

Walker offered strong praise for this “freakishly athletic” rookie after Week 2’s 31-27 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams.

The hype reveals the rapid strides already being made by yet another member of this year’s draft class for the Falcons.

Walker Wowed by LB’s Debut

Troy Andersen caught the eye of his teammate against the Rams and prompted Walker to say “He played great. I’m high on him. Troy is freakishly athletic. We have to clean him up on the X’s and O’s a little bit, but the sky is the limit for that kid,” per Josh Kendall of The Athletic.

That’s lofty praise for a second-round pick with just a single NFL game under his belt, although Andersen hardly looked out of place against the Rams. The former Montana State standout only registered a pair of tackles, but Andersen did showcase his big-play potential with this blocked punt:

Here come the #DirtyBirds @AtlantaFalcons blocked punt touchdown!

????: #ATLvsLAR on FOX
????: Stream on NFL+

— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2022

It’s understandable for Walker to be so effusive about what looked like a modest outing on the stat sheet. The Falcons need greater playmaking potential at every level of their defense, something only possible with better athletes on the field.

Coordinator Dean Pees is still struggling to do more with less and find the right mix of personnel. That’s why Andersen saw action on nine snaps against the Rams, per Pro Football Reference, after not being involved against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1.

Sadly, working in rookies like Andersen and edge-rusher Arnold Ebiketie, hasn’t stopped the rot in Atlanta’s defense. The unit still has the “fourth-worst pressure rate in the NFL,” as well as ranking “last in defensive rushing success rate (48.8 percent),” according to Kendall’s colleague Vic Tafur.

Those numbers put the Falcons’ defensive outings into a bleak context, but Walker’s performances have offered one of the few genuine silver linings.

Andersen Reciprocates Walker Praise

While Walker has been impressed by Andersen, the feeling is mutual. The first-year linebacker applauded how confidently Walker has taken to his role as the new on-field signal-caller for Pees’ defense, per Falcon Report’s Jeremy Brener: “Myke’s been great. Everyday when we watch film, just communicating what he’s seeing out on the field. He knows the defense so well that he can make the adjustments on the field and if there’s something that’s messed up or somebody’s on the wrong page, he can correct that and get everybody focused.”

Walker has been producing numbers that endorse his greater understanding of the scheme. His stats include 13 total tackles, one pass breakup, a sack, forced fumble and an interception.

The pick came against the Rams when Walker baited quarterback Matthew Stafford into trying to force the ball to Cooper Kupp. It was a brilliant piece of subterfuge described by Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair, who noted how Walker dropped into space after fellow inside linebacker Rashaan Evans had covered Rams’ running back Darrell Henderson.

When Stafford thought he had enough room to find Kupp, Walker closed the space and snatched the ball. The play helped Walker earn the top PFF grade for the Falcons in Week 2:

Top-graded Falcons in Week 2 against the Rams:

???? Mykal Walker – 82.3
???? Drake London – 82.0
???? Ta’Quon Graham – 75.4

— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) September 19, 2022

Walker credited coaching for his moment of opportunistic sleight of hand, per Bair: “As soon as Rashaan took the back, I knew I had to punch out the opposite way. Now the quarterback thinks he has a guy open. After that, it’s about instinct and reading the quarterback. That initial punch out got him to the throw the ball. That’s something the coaches instil in us, making sure you hit your landmarks. I did that and was in position to make a play.”

Walker’s emergence is good news for Pees after Foyesade Oluokun, the leading tackler in the NFL last season, joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. Oluokun’s absence is compounded by Deion Jones still being on the fringes of the team.

Jones continues to be touted for a trade, with Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox naming the veteran of Super Bowl LI as a good fit for either the Dallas Cowboys or Minnesota Vikings.

Oluokun and Jones manned the starting spots last season, but Walker and Andersen already look primed to rejuvenate the engine room of the Falcons’ defense in 2022.

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San Francisco Giants | SF Giants: Nagging back injury ends Luis Gonzálezs promising rookie season

Luis González was an early breakout star this season for the Giants, using his athleticism and professional approach at the plate to earn National League rookie of the month honors in May, but the 27-year-old outfielder struggled to regain that form since a chronic back issue interrupted his season in June.

Now, those back issues will spell a premature end to González’s season. The Giants placed him on the 10-day injured list before Saturday’s game against the D-backs. Catcher/infielder Ford Proctor was called up to take his place on the roster and started at second base, becoming the franchise-record 65th player used this season.

Manager Gabe Kapler told reporters in Phoenix that it was a difficult decision to shut down González and that, despite his sluggish second half, “he’s really earned the right to be out there.”

González’s modest final numbers (.254/.323/.360, four homers, 17 doubles, a .683 OPS) obscure a more impressive debut.

Before landing on the IL on June 21, González was leading the team with a .302 batting average, spraying the ball to all fields with plenty of pop — an .808 OPS. But one morning in Atlanta, González rolled out of the hotel bed, felt something funny in his back, and his season went sideways.

González, who had previously dealt with back issues, spent nearly three weeks on the injured list with a low back sprain. He entered the season still recovering from the shoulder surgery that ended his 2021 season (which made him available for the Giants to pluck from the White Sox, in the first place). Even when he came back, the back stiffness never went away.

“It’s been a long year for me in terms of my back and my shoulder,” González said in an interview last week. “(The IL stint) kind of got out of my rhythm a little bit.”

Since returning on July 9, González has batted .204 with one homer and five doubles — a .552 OPS.

“Baseball’s just a tough sport,” González said. “You can have a really hot month. You can have a really terrible month. You just have to stay as consistent as possible. … I don’t want any excuses.”

González also stole 10 bases — third on the team — and while his gusto on the base paths was often a positive, his tough second half was also defined by his blunders on the bases and in the field. González’s five errors were the most among Giants outfielders.

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When he spoke last week, González said his goal heading into the offseason was to lock down one of the three starting outfield spots next season. He doesn’t expect his back to affect his offseason work.

“I just want to perform,” he said.

  • With Ford Proctor starting at second base, the Giants set a franchise record with their 65th player used this season. All of their top three years have come since Farhan Zaidi took over as president of baseball operations in 2019. Proctor, who was acquired from the Rays in August for a minor-league pitcher, can play every infield position and catch, too. Kapler told reporters that San Francisco will use him primarily at second and short but could see time behind the plate in a pinch.
  • In a September call-up of the minor-league variety, the Giants promoted promising infield prospect Casey Schmitt to Triple-A Sacramento for the final two weeks of the regular season. Schmitt, 23, was the Giants’ second-round pick in 2020 and has been considered one of the system’s bright spots this season, batting .291 with 20 home runs (an .853 OPS) between High-A and Double-A while garnering raves with his glove at third base.

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