This is my second instance of trying to access which Atlanta Falcons players have raised their stock or lowered their stock through the early part of the summer. Unlike before which was based off the first week of training camp practices, we now have a preseason game to incorporate.
RB Antone Smith
Smith’s performance against the Miami Dolphins was a standout one where he was able to flash big-play potential on a run and a pass, if not for the fact that both were nullified by penalties. His first, a 34-yard catch on a simple checkdown was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty on wide receiver Harry Douglas. On that play, Smith made a simple catch over the middle, but was able to use his speed to outrun angles by Dolphins linebackers for the big gain. His next big play came in the second quarter, where he burst off the right side of the line, juked a defender and then outran the Dolphins defense on a 76-yard sprint to the endzone. That was held up due to a holding call on right tackle Jake Matthews. But despite the penalties, the plays have the Falcons exploring ways in which they can have Smith be a regular part of the Falcons offense this season.
TE Mickey Shuler
Coming off a solid, two-catch, 23-yard performance against the Dolphins, Shuler was able to earn reps with the first-team on Monday after being designated the third-string tight end throughout much of training camp. Shuler showed soft hands and some burst after the catch against the Dolphins and his blocking was significantly better than that of No. 2 tight end Bear Pascoe. Once considered merely a camp body, it’s feasible that Shuler could begin the season as the team’s No. 2 tight end if this keeps up.
OT Sam Baker
With most the question marks about the offensive line centering around Baker’s ability to perform at a high level this season, he seemingly answered some with a solid performance against the Miami Dolphins. Baker looked strong both as a pass-protector and run-blocker against the Dolphins and raises hopes that he may have put his injury-riddled and inconsistent history behind him. He’ll get an even bigger test this week, facing Houston Texans rookie edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Ultimately, it’s all about whether Baker can perform in September and beyond, but he’s off to a good start this summer.
OC Joe Hawley
Most of the questions post-Dolphins game when it comes to the Falcons offensive line, now rest at the feet of Hawley, who had an up and down game. Hawley showcased good ability when he was asked to pull and block on the move against the Dolphins, but had two notable lapses when he was asked to block inline. In both cases, if not for the hard-running of Jacquizz Rodgers, it would have resulted in significant losses of yardage. While Hawley’s grip on the starting job is not in doubt, there are lingering questions about whether he can hold up and perform at a high level for a full season. He fared well in seven starts last season at center, but had a few notable lapses and his performance against the Dolphins hasn’t erased doubts that there may be a few more on the horizon. Coupled with an ejection from practice to begin last week when the Falcons were working against the Tennessee Titans, it overall was not the best week for Hawley.
ILB Joplo Bartu
Bartu opened up the Miami Dolphins game with a missed tackle, which won’t help his cause in keeping the starting job at weak-side inside linebacker. He’s facing heat from rookie Prince Shembo, who performed well against the Dolphins. The Falcons coaching staff has already indicated that they see Shembo as a better fit at the position given his added size and more physical nature. While Bartu has Shembo beat in terms of athleticism and speed, that won’t help him much if he cannot be relied upon to make tackles. Their battle is ongoing, but at least following the Dolphins game, Bartu looks a lot more vulnerable.
SS Kemal Ishmael
Ishmael had the opportunity to start at free safety in the absence of Dwight Lowery, as well as due to the fact that rookie Dezmen Southward had missed roughly a week of practice nursing a knee injury. Ishmael failed to take full advantage of his opportunity, looking a little out of place in coverage. While Ishmael showed aggressiveness, he seemed to lose track of Dolphins receivers on multiple plays on the opening drive and failed to make an impact. While Ishmael probably has a firm handle on a roster spot, mainly as a backup to William Moore at strong safety, he didn’t allay concerns about the Falcons lack of depth at the safety position and has many breathing a sigh of relief with the return of Lowery to the lineup this week.