Matt Bryant snuck in a field goal before the end of the first half to cap a 17 point second quarter and provide the difference in the Falcons 17-15 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason finale.
The win allowed Atlanta to finish the practice season with a 3-1 record but more importantly provided Head Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff more film. “We are trying to get guys in the best roll for them,” said Quinn. “The more we see them do from a versatility standpoint -ends to tackles, tackles to inside, can he be a factor in nickel- those are the things for us as coaches and personnel to say how well can we learn the player and find out what he can do best. I think there is no greater place than practice and here in these preseason games to say alright let’s put him in a unique spot what can he do whether it was man-to-man coverage or if you are a safety on a tight end, nickel playing man-to-man, those are the matchups that we were trying to create both in practice and preseason and we accomplished that goal in four games.
Call it a crazy hunch, but there is an overwhelming feeling that it’s not just the players who are being evaluated this season.
Is Ward a Keeper or a Goner?
Injury-plagued running back Terron Ward tightened up his laces and scored two touchdowns in his preseason debut as the featured back. Ward, who is battling rookie Brandon Wilds for one of the coveted backfield spots, rushed for 62 yards on 20 carries. “”Being out three weeks, it felt good getting in between the lines again. I feel like everyone battled hard and the O-Line opened up holes for me. Matt Simms did a great job at quarterback so it was a great time to be out there.”
Coach Quinn was proud of Ward’s ability to handle the load coming off of a sore ankle. “”We knew this guy is tough and a competitor,” said Quinn. “He’s got a warriors mindset and always has. For him to come up he just battled through for it tonight.”
Deciding how many running backs to keep and who they will be is going to be tough for the Falcons brain trust. With three mainstays in Tevin Colman and pro-bowlers Devonta Freeman and Patrick DiMarco, the Falcons are likely to keep only one more. Wilds, out of South Carolina, exhibited good speed and burst for a 220-pounder over the first three preseason games.
Shoring up the Defense through Cuts
The Falcons defensive line starters played most if not all, of the first half as the coaching staff continues to search for a line-up that will put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In his third year, Ra’Shede Hageman continues to underwhelm. After failing to appear on the stat sheet in the first two preseason games, the defensive tackle managed a single assisted tackle in the game finishing the preseason with two and zero sacks. Not exactly the body of work you want to leave with the coaching staff and personnel bosses as they prepare to pare down the roster.
Competition for a spot in linebacker rotation continues to be fierce. Veteran and returning free agent Sean Weatherspoon continued to struggle in space. The former starting weak-side linebacker looked frozen when running back Joe Banyard cut back on a Jaguars sweep at the 32 leaving Weatherspoon clutching his thoughts. The once speedy linebacker’s fall off was evident in training camp as Coleman, Freeman, and Wilds beat him to and around the edge on running plays.
Weatherspoon is in direct competition with Phillip Wheeler a mid-season pick-up in 2015. Wheeler, a Georgia Tech product, has led the Falcons in tackles with 13 during the preseason. Rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell are almost certain locks to make the squad along with veterans Paul Worrilow, Brooks Reed and Vic Beasley. The final decision may come down to the versatility that Coach Quinn has preached about all through training camp. It is likely Tyler Starr’s run with the Falcons is over. He may suffer the same fates as LeRoy Reynolds and Matt Wells when the Falcons begin trimming the roster.
Busting up the Logjam at Wideout
Wide receivers J.D. McKissic, Nate Williams, and Aldrick Robinson continued making their individual cases to be included on the final 53-man roster. Through three games Robinson ranked second in the league with 202 yards receiving. He picked up 21 more yards on two receptions against the Jags. The Dallas, Texas native also played in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system in Washington. Both McKissic and Williams continued showing they were more than just stand-out special teams players. Williams led the receiving corps with 4 catches for 62 yards while McIssic caught 3 passes for 47 yards.
Eric Weems has been a valuable player on the offense and special teams but the young guns are talented and just as versatile. Another team may call on the veteran’s services as the sun sets on his days as an Atlanta Falcons player. Recently acquired receiver Corey Washington may get caught up in the numbers game like Weems. The coaches may not have had enough film to evaluate the veteran enough to keep him.
Atlanta will trim the roster in two waves. The first wave will be easier than the first because of the players entrenched in the depth chart. The second wave will be more difficult because the Falcons will be deciding who they will extend an offer to return to the team via the taxi squad. Players that are likely to be cut or land on the taxi-squad* (if they clear waivers) are: