When the smoke cleared Saturday, all six rookies selected by the Falcons in the 2017 draft were still around after the team trimmed its preseason roster to the final 53 in preparation for the season opener next Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
In addition to the six rookies, the team kept only four of the free agent signees. Linebacker Jermaine Grace, a undrafted free agent out of Miami (FL), became this season’s Brian Poole by snagging a roster spot. Head Coach Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, and linebacker coach Jeff Ulbricht took a long look at the few prospects they brought into camp at the linebacker position.
Rookies Duke Riley, Sean Harlow, and Takk McKinley seemed destined to make the team from the first day of camp.
After Thursday’s final preseason game against the Jaguars, Quinn was excited about Grace’s play. “We were encouraged to see the speed that he (Grace) could play with,” said Quinn. “Our linebackers can run. That’s from top to bottom. The speed that they play with shows up on tape. It shows up on the way they hit. It shows up on the way they go after the ball.”
To be a linebacker on the Falcons squad, you must be able to run with speed, hit the ball carrier, and get after the ball.
Veteran free agents Jack Crawford, Austin Pasztor, and Andre Roberts join The Brotherhood donning the red and black this season. It was unlikely Pasztor would get swept with the chaff after having played next to Alex Mack on the offensive line in Cleveland. Defensive end Crawford made the most of his third team opportunity. The former Dallas Cowboy made a lot of noise in the preseason. “He looked very disruptive in the run game and in the pass game,” said coach Quinn of Crawford’s play. “That’s what jumped out to us.” Crawford’s ability to affect the opposition’s play and his physical versatility. As a 6’5” defensive tackle, he presents a challenge for opposing quarterbacks in the passing lanes with his quickness and length.
Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Andre Roberts became the only addition to Matt Ryan’s arsenal. Roberts beat out competing rookies Reggie Davis and Marvin Hall for the coveted spot. Hall, along with five other rookies, was named to the practice squad.
This morning defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman was given his official release. Hageman was placed on the NFL exempt list pending a review of domestic violence allegations stemming from an incident with his girlfriend Janeal Jefferies in her home. The Falcons released a statement this morning that the decision was made to terminate Hageman’s contract after a thorough investigative review of the circumstances by local authorities.
Atlanta also completed filling out its practice squad. Joe Vellano and Joshua Perkins return to the practice squad. Wide receiver Marvin Hall cleared waivers and will remain with the organization. Running back Jhurell Pressley will occupy the practice squad spot once held by Terron Ward. Ward’s performance at the end of last season and during preseason secured the third-year back a spot on the 53-man roster. Former British rugby player Alex Gray was named to the practice squad but is exempted from the 10-player limit because of his international ties.
Falcons Practice Squad
Joe Vellano, DL
Taniela Tupou, DL
Joshua Perkins, TE
Jhurell Pressley, RB
Marvin Hall*, WR
Deante Burton*, WR
Daniel T Brunskill*, OL
Marcelis Branch*, DB
Alex Gray*, TE (International player exemption)
Martin Ifedi, DE
Josh Keyes, LB
Josh Magee, WR
Matt Simms, QB
Quincy Mauger*, S
Jalen Collins, DB
Hot off the Wire
Defensive end Chris Odom didn’t have time to unpack after being cut from the Falcons. The Green Bay Packers picked up the 2017 undrafted free agent less than 24 hours after he was placed on waivers. Cleveland picked up University of Georgia undrafted free agent Reggie Davis from the waiver wire.
List of Players who were on the Super Bowl Roster but are not returning for 2017
Chris Chester, OL (Retired)
Tom Compton, OL (Chicago Bears)
Patrick DiMarco, FB (Buffalo)
Dwight Freeney, DL
Dashon Goldson, S
Tyson Jackson, DL
DJ Tialavea, TE/OL
Ra’Shede Hageman, DL
Aldrick Robinson, WR (SF 49ers)
Eric Weems, WR (Tennessee Titans)
Philip Wheeler, LB (Arizona Cardinals)
Paul Worrilow, LB (Detroit Lions)
In the two years that Dan Quinn has been the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, he has never shied away from making what the expectations are for making the roster. Sunday afternoon the second and third units were given plenty of opportunities to standout for better or worse.
“Thomas and I, on the flight back, are going to dig right into the second half before we even watch the first half,” said Quinn. “There are so many guys that we are evaluating and looking to see who can battle and make an impact for this team. We cannot wait to go.”
With two games remaining in the preseason, players are either battling for a roster spot, auditioning for another team, or coming to the brutal realization that the NFL is beyond their capability. It is unlikely any of the returning starters will have to worry about making the team which doesn’t leave a lot of room for additions. The key as always is flexibility.
The starting offense and defense didn’t disappoint in Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Devonta Freeman’s injury gave Terron Ward an opportunity to start. Ward not only started, he played in every quarter and scored the game’s first touchdown. He made the most of playing with the starting line gaining 25 of his 37 yards rushing in the first quarter.
It’s clear Ward’s chances to make the team will be impacted by his ability to play on special teams. He was included on all four special teams. There was no “coach speak” from Quinn when discussing the third-year back. “The third running back is a really important one,” said Quinn. “Not only do you have to say not only do I have to step up and play when capable, but I also have to make an impact on the team.”
There’s no question special teams is an area where the Falcons want to improve over last season. Which made the 64-yard punt return for a touchdown by Steelers return man Trey William all that more problematic. Quinn mentioned “disappointing” along with several statements about “finding out who can cover” in reference to special teams.
Atlanta’s second and third teams didn’t fair well against the Steelers second and third teams. Quarterback Matt Sims, who is likely auditioning for another team, was unable to move the offense in the second half. With Sims at the helm most of the second half, Atlanta’s gained only 59 yards. The four-year pro didn’t help his audition tape by getting picked off by Jordan Dangerfield on the first play from scrimmage after the defense turned over the Steelers.
Defensively, the Falcons played well allowing the Steelers 189 yards of total offense and intercepting both opposing quarterbacks once. Rookie safety Quincy Mauger (Georgia) made a diving interception of an ugly pitch by Steelers rookie starting quarterback Josh Dobbs. “A whole bunch of thoughts went through my head on that play,” said the Alpharetta High School product. “Originally, I was going to run for it. I had the guy in the flat. Then they covered him. And I didn’t think I was going to get tackled and then I was tripping.” Cornerback Akeem King picked off Bart Houston in the end zone to thwart a potential Pittsburgh scoring drive.
Atlanta returns home to prepare for the third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It will be the Falcons first game in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.
A warm night, a willing opponent and referees were integral to the next step in the evaluation process for the 2017 Atlanta Falcons. Any team dressed in another uniform would have served the Falcons purpose, it just so happens the venue was in Miami and the Dolphins were eager to test themselves as well. Miami’s seconds […]