Preseason is always a weirdly interesting time. For many fans it is just great to have football back. For other it is is a great chance to see some different players to normal. Sometimes it can be as simple as rooting for a guy you liked in college. Unfortunately, often what preseason brings is drab football as coaches and players try to adjust schemes while not giving away too much of their in-season plans. That is no different for the Falcons. Many of the starters are pretty much locked in but there are still some interesting battles for backup spots. The first preseason game gives many of these players either a first opportunity to impress, or a chance to remind coaches why they kept them around the year before. So what should we expect from the Falcons in their opening preseason game against the Jets?
Last year in the first preseason game Matt Ryan threw just three passes. Devonta Freeman ran the ball once, as did Tevin Coleman. Freeman added a catch but generally the main two running backs did not feature much. In addition, Mohammed Sanu, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper caught two passes between them. I have only spoken about the offense thee but you get my point, the starters will likely not be doing much Friday night.
It will be interesting to see how much Matt Schaub plays Friday. If we see him playing a lot then we know he is truly in competition with Kurt Benkert for the backup spot. My expectation is that Schaub throws a couple of passes, as he did last year. According to the depth chart we should then see Benkert come in and handle the majority of the middle of the game. After that I expect Garrett Grayson to get his chance to impress. If that is the case then we can likely assume Benkert is behind Schaub still.
The other place that really interests me is running back. Last season Terron Ward handled the bulk of the work in the first game. At the time he was the third back on the depth chart. If that is the case we should see Ito Smith handle most of the work with the rest of the running backs seeing time as well. What will be interesting is if we see Tevin Coleman play an extended amount of time. It is unlikely but if we do then it suggests Smith may be putting pressure on Coleman.
In terms of pass catchers, expect to see plenty of names fill up the box score. I expect Calvin Ridley may see time on the field with Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. Beyond that I think there will be performances of note but it will be hard to take too much away from this game. At tight end the only real competition is whether Eric Saubert can get in front of Logan Paulsen. To do this Saubert needs to show he can block well and be useful catching the ball. This will be a battle to watch over the preseason. Another tight end to keep in mind is the English former rugby player Alex Gray. If Gray makes a big impression in preseason he could find himself sneaking onto the roster Paulsen or Saubert’s expense.
On the offensive line the only real battle appears to be at right guard. Wes Schweitzer was the starter last year but the Falcons signed Brandon Fusco to come ina nd compete. Fusco has been banged up in training camp, meaning Schweitzer currently remains the starter. How Schweitzer does in these preseason games could be a big factor in which of these starts and who is the backup.
Takkarist McKinley was recently named the starter at defensive end but I do not expect him to feature much in this game. That gives Brooks Reed a chance to make his claim for why he should start instead. He will be fighting an uphill battle but with McKinley’s injuries there is a slim chance. Defensive tackle will make for interesting viewing. Veteran Terrell McClain is currently claiming the spot next to Grady Jarrett. However, strong preseason performances from Jack Crawford or rookie Deadrin Senat could see them move infront of McClain to open the season.
This feels like a settled position to me but there are still things to watch. How Duke Riley performs in his second year will be interesting but we may not see a huge amount of him in this game. Someone we should see plenty of is Foye Oluokun, the rookie out of Yale. He is exactly the type of versatile player that Dan Quinn likes. It will be uphill sledding for him to become a starter but a strong preseason could cement him as the backup to De’Vondre Campbell and possibly Deion Jones.
Again the starters here seem fairly settled but the interest will be in how rookie Isaiah Oliver performs. Oliver is unlikely to make a claim for a starting spot but he is the favorite right now to be on the field in three corner back sets. The Falcons will be hoping for big things from their rookie. Among the defensive back positions there will be some scrapping for the last couple of spots on the roster so keep an eye on anyone who impresses, they could play a big part at some point in the season.