Here is my review of what I saw from every single Atlanta Falcons player in the team’s preseason-opening win against the Washington Redskins.
I do this every year and there’s occasionally some insights gleaned from it. For example, last year the Falcons somewhat foreshadowed the release of center Joe Hawley by how they were platooning him and Mike Person during the final few games of the preseason.
We’re only one game into the preseason with three more remaining, so I won’t try to jump to any conclusions. But as the rest of the preseason unfolds, I’ll start to draw some firmer takeaways on how position battles and the roster picture is shaping up.
Also one of the positives you can glean from these breakdowns is exactly how the team’s depth chart looks, which offers quite a bit of insight in how the coaching staff views certain players. While the Falcons released an unofficial depth chart last week, here’s what their actual depth chart looked like against the Redskins:
To check out the team’s current depth chart reflecting many of these changes, you can click here.
As for the rest, we’ll go position-by-position with some tentative conclusions I’ve made about each group.
What I Saw: Matt Ryan got two series’ worth of action and failed to complete a pass. He should have had more opportunities since he threw a nice pass to Mohamed Sanu on the second series, but an interference penalty was not called on the breakup. That should have given the Falcons a first down and continued that series. Instead on the very next play, Ryan faced pressure, had to reset his feet and threw late to Aldrick Robinson, which was broken up. It was not an impressive performance by any means, but nothing that should get anybody’s panties in a twist.
Then he gave way to Matt Schaub for the rest of the first half. Schaub played very well, looking poised and in control as a veteran quarterback. He had the two big plays to Robinson, but I thought Schaub’s work in the red zone stood out a bit more. He had two opportunities to throw touchdowns on his first series, but pressure in his face (allowed by Mike Person) caused an under throw to Sanu in the end zone that was broken up. Then a few plays later he was able to avoid pressure, get outside the pocket and find an open Devonta Freeman in the end zone. But Freeman dropped what should have been an easy touchdown.
Sean Renfree got the bulk of the work in the second half. He hit on a couple of throws and missed on a few (the lob to Austin Hooper jumps to mind), but mostly was solid. He showed good poise despite the fact that he seemed to be dealing with less-than-ideal offensive line play. There was a little too much pressure and it seemed that whenever the Redskins blitzed at that point in the game, they were successful.
Matt Simms got some late action and like Ryan failed to complete a pass. But like Renfree, that was partially to blame on bad line play leading to one batted pass and another incompletion due to a drop. Simms can only blame himself for missing his first throw, but we’ll blame that on jitters. His biggest positive was the fact that he showed very effective wheels on an 18-yard run that was the read option. The Falcons managed to utilize read option at least four times from my count when Simms was in the game on the final two series, which makes me believe that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hasn’t scrapped it totally from his playbook.
Conclusions: Schaub had the strong start that I was hoping to see but I also thought Renfree did enough to keep pace. There are several more games to be played at this point before things are settled, but I’d say based off this first game, the chances that the Falcons keep two backups behind Ryan have increased. Ryan’s subpar performance is nothing worth losing sleep over.
What I Saw: Devonta Freeman had a nice couple of runs to start the third series when Schaub entered the game. He looked just like he did last year: perfectly fine. But his most significant play was the dropped touchdown. He seemed to signal to the sideline as he was jogging back that he lost track of the ball in the air, maybe from the lights or something.
Tevin Coleman didn’t get much work, presumably because the Falcons didn’t want him to aggravate the foot injury he had been suffering from earlier in camp. But he had one nice run near the goal line.
Brandon Wilds and Gus Johnson rotated at the running back spot thereafter and Wilds definitely looked better. But to be fair, he seemed to get better blocking, although he had his fair share of poorly blocked ones as well. The only real bad play from Wilds was his fumble.
Wilds showed good straight-line speed throughout the night, looking comfortable when he could run north and south, but doesn’t quite have the lateral cutting on the second level that you’d prefer to see within the zone-blocking scheme. There were also a couple of times where Wilds’ pass-protection needed to be better. I never saw anything glaring, but it’s not quite to a level where I think the team would be comfortable playing him during the regular season like they often did Terron Ward last season as the third back.
Johnson had a few nice runs, but very little daylight to run through. Ward did not play due to an ankle injury and Cyrus Gray was also held out.
Conclusions: We didn’t really get an extended opportunity to see Coleman in order to gauge how much improvement, if any, he’s made in 2016. Between the backups, Wilds was the superior one, but his fumble leaves the door still open for Johnson and others to close the gap in the coming weeks. The battle for the third running back is wide open at this point.
What I Saw: Neither Patrick DiMarco nor his backup, Will Ratelle, got a ton of work as the Falcons were utilizing three wide receivers for most of the night. From my count, a fullback lined up on the field on roughly a dozen plays.
DiMarco was already a lock to make the team and Ratelle’s best chance was to show enough upside to earn a reserve spot, with the chance to play in the event that the former got hurt. But Ratelle missed too many assignments, making him a long shot to stick. That could be somewhat forgivable since he’s being converted from a college linebacker, but my expectation was that at least he’d look physical given that defensive background. That wasn’t quite the case.
Conclusions: If DiMarco was to go down, based off this first preseason action, I’d be very confident that the Falcons would bring in an outside option rather than go with Ratelle. We’ll see if there is improvement from the latter over the course of the preseason.
What I Saw: Julio Jones basically was pulled after the first series, which has been the norm in these early preseason games the past few summers. Mohamed Sanu stayed in the game for a bit longer, staying in through the first three series and thus got an opportunity to be the featured option across from Aldrick Robinson when Schaub entered the game.
What is most notable is that Justin Hardy got the start alongside Jones and Sanu but according to my notes, did not see a single snap inside in the slot while Sanu was playing. His one and only slot rep was at the outset of the fourth series when Sanu was pulled. I have had questions over whether Sanu would steal a significant portion of Hardy’s reps in the slot this year and at least based off how the team deployed them in this first preseason week, the answer is yes. Based off my count, Sanu played 18 snaps and was lined up in the slot on six of them.
Robinson served as Jones’ backup and he along with Hardy and Nick Williams clearly rounded out the team’s top five receivers on the depth chart. Williams by my count had 21 snaps with 18 of them coming in the slot. That is very clearly his role with the team, but I do wonder how necessary it is. Jones, Sanu and Hardy all can play in the slot and even Robinson got some reps there against the Redskins. Rookie Devin Fuller is also experienced slot receiver dating from his days at UCLA. Unlike the others, Williams isn’t much of an outside receiver and I wonder if there really needs to be a roster spot reserved for a “slot only” receiver in Atlanta. But again, it’s very clear that Williams is the fifth guy on the depth chart as of now, so I actually expect him to stick despite my concerns.
Robinson had the big plays in the game, showing his trademark vertical potential. The key moving forward is going to be getting him more reps with Ryan at quarterback to try and help build that rapport to better take advantage of that skill set during the regular season.
After the top five, Eric Weems, Fuller and Jordan Leslie were the next players off the bench. Weems had the big catch on a go route. It was a nice play by Weems, but probably more the result of Redskins cornerback Jeremy Harris completely losing track of the ball in the air than anything special Weems did.
Fuller didn’t do much in his debut but had a nice 17-yard grab on a dig route. Leslie also made a nice leaping grab on a 13-yard pass for his lone reception of the night. What impressed me most about Leslie was his blocking. Given he’s one of the few Falcons backup receivers that legitimately stands above six-feet tall, it makes sense that he was more effective than others when it came to getting position downfield. But still he seemed to consistently hit his blocking assignments.
David Glidden, Corey Washington and J.D. McKissic all got work late in the game on the final two series but did little with it. That was mostly because the Falcons were focused primarily on running out the clock. McKissic dropped an opportunity on a screen and the one target to Washington was an off throw by Simms.
Conclusions: If there were concerns over whether Robinson could make this roster going into this game, he silenced them quickly. The big question is going to be whether he can repeat this with more first-unit work later this summer.
As far as roster battles go, I think Williams is really the only player of note to pay attention to at least in terms of their offensive potential. Everyone else such as Fuller, Weems, etc. are really is going to have to earn their way onto the team based on special teams ability more than anything else. I suspect Williams has the inside track on a roster spot, but as I mentioned earlier, there is some redundancy in his role.
At least based off play on offense, I thought Leslie helped himself the most of any receiver. But he’s a roster long shot at this point and is basically fighting for a place on the practice squad.
What I Saw: The Falcons rotated most of their reserves in and out of the game with a lot of reps given to Austin Hooper and Josh Perkins throughout the last three quarters. Jacob Tamme didn’t appear to get any work after the second series, which subtly signifies his grip on the starting spot.
If Hooper is a potential challenger there, it was somewhat telling that he only saw the field after D.J. Tialavea did. Tialavea seemed to be getting the reps as the second blocking tight end that Levine Toilolo would have gotten had he been healthy enough to play. Tialavea was even taking Toilolo’s usual snaps on punt coverage too.
There weren’t any real standouts from my eyes. Among the backups, they all seemed to have a few positive and negative plays. Perkins seemed to have the most struggles as a blocker, which was probably to be expected given how much lighter he is than the rest of the group.
Conclusions: Hooper’s debut was not particularly memorable, but he should have plenty more opportunities to shine in the next three games. Toilolo entered this summer slightly on the bubble, with a player like Tialavea being a challenger to his role as blocking tight end. Tialavea barely stood out to me, but that might be a sign that he was simply doing his job at a competent enough level that I barely noticed him. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing in regards to Toilolo’s hold on a roster spot. But it’s certainly something that I’ll pay a bit more attention to in upcoming games.
What I Saw: The starters got about three series of work or at least left tackle Jake Matthews, center Alex Mack and right tackle Ryan Schraeder did. Left guard Andy Levitre got pulled after the first series. I’m not sure if that’s an indicator that he has a firm grip on his roster spot or that he doesn’t. Mike Person stepped in to replace him for the next two series.
Right guard Chris Chester was pulled in favor of Wes Schweitzer on the Falcons’ second possession, but went right back in on the third. That’s usually an indicator that the team wants to give both guys an opportunity with the starters, fueling the fire that Chester will have to earn his starting spot again.
Schweitzer had some positive moments in his debut, looking better than I expected he would. But the competition isn’t even close between him and Chester, who I thought along with Schraeder was one of the more impressive of the team’s starting quintet on Thursday evening.
Among the starters, I noticed Matthews seemed to struggle the most. Redskins outside linebacker Preston Smith seemed to win that matchup everytime they faced each other, effectively getting position against Matthews at the point of attack on run plays and also be able to get by him a couple of times on pass plays. I don’t think that deserves panic as far as Matthews goes, but rather might be a good indicator that Smith is poised to become really good in the near future. He did after all lead all rookies last year with eight sacks.
To be honest, I thought Mack looked okay. There were some positives and some negatives, but he certainly didn’t live up to some of the hype that his presence would bring forth a tidal wave of greatness along the Falcons offensive line.
It was notable to me that Schweitzer was “short-setting” guys in pass protection, which basically means he was going forward and attacking defensive linemen rather than going backward to create a pocket around the quarterback, as is most common for blockers.
Short-setting is typically a way for less athletic blockers to compensate for that deficiency. It’s effective when used sporadically, but I’m not sure if many guys can succeed at this level if they rely on it consistently. That is going to be something worth monitoring with Schweitzer moving forward. As for his run-blocking, he had mostly positive moments although his power was a little lacking at times.
Person and Ben Garland each got backup reps at both center and left guard. Neither were impressive in either role. Garland flashed some mean streak, playing beyond the whistle that was very reminiscent of Hawley but his snapping was inconsistent and he struggled too often with power. When Garland is able to get out on the second level, he’s very effective. But he’s too frequently controlled and loses at the point of attack.
Person had a handful of really good blocks but a litany of bad ones. The notion that returning him to guard would lead him to looking much more comfortable proved false if simply judging from his performance against the Redskins. He struggled quite a bit in pass protection with bad feet and technique too often.
Bryce Harris and Tom Compton got the backup work at left and right tackle, respectively. Harris played with the third unit as well and I don’t recall many moments where I thought he looked good. He really looked slow-footed in pass protection and it did not make me too confident that he’s poised to earn a roster spot.
Compton on the other hand was more capable. Most of his issues were really minor compared to other backups I saw on Thursday night. There were a couple of plays where his athleticism to get out on the second level really stood out.
For the third unit, I thought each guy had a couple of nice individual moments. Shahbaz Ahmed looked much more athletic on a couple of plays that I expected based off what little I saw of him at Temple. Michael Huey was solid and I thought showed good pop off the snap late in the game as a run blocker. He had a few mistakes, but he seemed the most consistent of the third team guys. Laurence Gibson also looked physical as a run blocker.
Collin Rahrig showed very good mean streak and was really getting after guys on the handful of reps he saw. Jake Reed was adequate at center.
Conclusions: While Levitre and Chester are reportedly in the midst of competition for their starting jobs, I didn’t see enough from either Person or Schweitzer to make me believe that the former two are in any real danger. We’ll have to see if that changes in the coming weeks.
There were certainly positive moments for the Falcons’ reserves, but a few too many negative ones. Schweitzer and Compton both at least got off to relatively good starts this summer.
But I need to see more reps from some of these players before I start to draw any firmer conclusions.
What I Saw: The Falcons went with the base defense I think most of us had come to anticipated based off the training-camp reports, which featured Derrick Shelby, Grady Jarrett, Tyson Jackson and Brooks Reed.
I thought Jackson probably was the most impressive of that quartet when defending the run, somewhat quieting my concerns about his move to defensive tackle. He only really played four snaps by my count, but he did exactly what you wanted for all four of them, creating leverage and consistently pushing his blocker into the backfield.
None of the others really stood out. Shelby got a ton of work with the first-team nickel defense and Jarrett subbed into the nickel with the backups. Jarrett had a couple of nice plays, including a nice hit on the quarterback on the fourth series.
I was honestly a bit underwhelmed with Shelby. Let’s just say I got much more of a Ray Edwards vibe than a Michael Bennett one. That’s certainly not being fair to Shelby and he had a few flashes, but nothing that stood out enough to make me think he’s poised to significantly move the needle as far as the Falcons’ pass rush goes in 2016.
But he was no less effective inside than Jonathan Babineaux was in his brief action in the nickel. As expected, Shelby, Babineaux, Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley filled out the team’s four-man nickel front.
Clayborn looked good, although he was going up against a backup offensive tackle in Ty Nsekhe rather than Trent Williams. Nsekhe is a journeyman that has been all over the Arena Leagues in recefnt years, so I’d be upset if Clayborn didn’t look dominant at times. Beasley had a couple of nice pass rushes, with a pressure during the second series that forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal.
As far as the second unit base defense, I thought Ra’Shede Hageman and Joey Mbu performed well against the run. Malliciah Goodman even had a few moments while working as the “LEO.”
Courtney Upshaw, working as the three-technique defensive tackle was hit and miss however. There were too many instances of him getting blown off the ball and he really struggled to handle double teams. However that is somewhat understandable given that Upshaw is new to playing defensive tackle. He had some positive moments, but for the most part looked like the one second-string reserve that didn’t quite measure up.
One who did was Nordly Capi, who was able to impress with his first-step quickness as a pass-rusher in the team’s sub-packages. Capi is a bit undersized and on the handful of occasions when he tried to bull rush, he was easily knocked off his rush. But when he can use his speed to go around the tackle or set him up for an inside counter move, he’s effective.
Chris Mayes also did nice work against the run in his brief action working with the third-string line at nose tackle. Cory Johnson struggled against the run, but did have a nice sack. Brandon Williams had a couple of nice reps, but is a bit of a “tweener:” not quite quick enough to be a truly effective pass-rusher, but not quite bulky enough to be a reliable force against the run.
Ife Obada got some work in both the base and nickel defenses late in the game and looked exceedingly raw, particularly with his get-off and pass-rush technique. It’s certainly not a surprise that he’s only been playing football for a few years. Dwight Freeney was held out of action.
Conclusions: When the Falcons’ base units were on the field, their run defense was mostly solid. Much of Washington’s success moving the ball on the ground came when they were facing the Atlanta’s nickel defenses throughout the night. Among the reserves, Capi was the most impressive pass-rusher. But Mbu and Mayes both had positive moments against the run. Goodman did some good things, but considering that he’s on the bubble, he’s going to have to do a lot more to stick.
The pass rush was a little underwhelming from the starters, but Clayborn and Beasley both made plays when it counted. If you were one of those people that was questioning whether the addition of Shelby was going to do enough to enhance the Falcons pass rush, his performance on Thursday did little to boost your confidence.
The transitions of Hageman and Jackson to their new positions looked promising as both seemed to take relatively well to their new positions in what limited opportunities they had.
Upshaw is probably the most interesting player at this position because he appears to be a man without a true position. We’ll have to keep an eye on how much, if any, progress he shows playing inside over the course of the next three games.
What I Saw: The improved play of the linebackers was evident on Thursday night. Interestingly enough, Sean Weatherspoon got the starting reps at middle linebacker with Paul Worrilow playing beside him at weak-side linebacker. Both players were solid in two series’ worth of action in the first quarter.
Weatherspoon was badly out of position on a 12-yard run by Matt Jones on the opening drive, not reacting to the run and instead dropping into coverage. Fortunately a holding call on Morgan Moses wiped out that gain. That was the only major blemish on Spoon’s stint in the middle.
They alternated early series with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. I thought of the two rookies, Jones was the far more impressive. He looked a lot more physical than I expected he would, able to shed blockers and attack the ballcarrier in the hole on multiple occasions.
Campbell made a number of “routine” plays, making some nice open-field tackles in the flat in coverage and making a few stops at or behind the line of scrimmage when he was completely unblocked and allowed to close on the ball. Those plays weren’t consistently made last year, but the fact that he made them aren’t really cause for celebration. There were too many instances where Campbell was playing on his heels, which was his biggest problem at Minnesota. What I mean by that is that he’s not reacting as rapidly as other linebackers are, so he’s not always putting himself in the best position to make plays. It was no doubt a solid debut, but he still has a ways to go before living up to the considerable hype he’s received through the early part of camp.
Beasley got only two reps on the opening series at strong-side linebacker and not enough happened on either play to really properly evaluate him there. Philip Wheeler replaced him on the few other base downs later in the first quarter. Wheeler also got some late work as the weak-side linebacker. He seemed bit overaggressive in that role, seemingly looking to make a play and getting himself out of position on a couple of plays.
Tyler Starr spent most of his time playing defensive end in the nickel rather than linebacker in the base. I’ve always thought Starr looks more natural and comfortable rushing the quarterback with his hand on the ground than playing upright at linebacker. Nothing I saw on Thursday night changed that opinion.
Ivan McLennan also had the same role as Starr, but I thought McLennan looked a little bit more lost in terms of his awareness on the handful of reps he had at linebacker. He also wasn’t much to write home about as a pass-rusher on passing downs despite getting the game-sealing sack at the end.
LaRoy Reynolds was competent as the team’s third-string middle linebacker, working mostly with Wheeler before the latter gave way to Matt Wells on the final two series. Wells had a nice open field tackle to start, but then missed on another tackle trying to go for the big hit. Given his fairly brief time working with the team, such inconsistency is to be expected.
Conclusions: The two best linebackers on the field were Weatherspoon and Jones if you ask me.If I was basing it entirely off one preseason game, I’d like to see some combination of Spoon and Jones starting this year at linebacker.
Although Worrilow played well, we are already well-versed in what he is and isn’t. And even if Worrilow is significantly better as a weak-side linebacker instead of playing in the middle, we know he’s not really the future of this team at either spot.
Reynolds and Wheeler probably have significant leads on the rest of the group for roster spots, although neither is guaranteed anything at this point. Starr also finds himself on the bubble and is either going to have to do a lot more as a pass-rusher or more as a run-defender at linebacker to strengthen his chances of sticking.
After a bit of hype this offseason and some promising tape at Washington State, McLennan was a bit underwhelming in his debut. Hopefully he’ll improve as the rest of the summer unfolds.
What I Saw: One of the issues I noticed in this Redskins game and it also dates back to last summer as well, is how hard it is to evaluate Falcons cornerbacks. Part of that is not having access to the All-22, which makes evaluating defensive backs so much easier but also it’s partially due to the scheme the Falcons run. It’s a scheme that doesn’t really lead to the corners being tested that often in the preseason. Without opponent-oriented gameplans, opposing teams aren’t consistently putting their receivers in position to win against the Falcons’ Cover-3 scheme.
So that makes it harder for me to evaluate the Falcons corners in the preseason. It’s easy to see when someone is especially bad, but harder to tell if/when someone is doing especially well unless they’re breaking up passes or contesting catches.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both got one series of action and really don’t need anymore. Akeem King and C.J. Goodwin replaced them starting on the second series. Both players had their lapses in the game, but it was by no means poor performances on their part.
King got beat by Vernon Davis on what should have been a touchdown if Davis had not dropped the ball. Goodwin got beat a couple of times because he has a tendency to give up too much cushion. Also given that he’s making the transition from wide receiver, it makes sense that his awareness, technique and footwork aren’t quite up to par. One thing I’ll say positive for Goodwin is that he was much more physical and effective in run support than I would expect from a former wide receiver. He forced a fumble and had a touchdown-saving tackle at the goal line.
However neither King nor Goodwin inspired the confidence I’m looking for in order to be comfortable with either opening the regular season as the team’s nickel cornerback. But there is still time.
Speaking of nickel cornerback, it was Brian Poole that got all of the reps playing in the slot during the first half of the game. He did his job there but I question how much should be read into that since Kevin White had a similar role starting off last summer but wound up being released by the team.
DeMarcus Van Dyke and Devonte Johnson got the second-half reps in the slot. Jalen Collins worked most of the second half at right cornerback, while a combination of Van Dyke, Johnson, Goodwin and Jordan Sefon played on the left side.
None of them really got challenged all that much, although Sefon got beat twice on back-shoulder throws. So there isn’t a whole lot of conclusions to draw from this single game in regards to any of the backups.
Conclusions: As mentioned before, it’s hard to draw too much from this game. Poole’s work with the first team is probably the biggest takeaway, but it’ll be interesting to see if he continues to get that work. It’s hard to imagine that the Falcons would feel all that comfortable starting the season with Poole as their primary nickel option. But I’m not sure there is another better candidate currently in Atlanta.
What I Saw: Kemal Ishmael and Robenson Therezie had to pull a lot of extra weight given the injury to Keanu Neal. Ishmael played the entire first half at strong safety and did some good things against the run. Therezie got quite a bit of work at free safety once Ricardo Allen exited the game after three series.
Therezie didn’t have quite as good a game, as he had one or two missed tackles. Therezie still doesn’t seem to have that same knack for playing centerfield that Allen has, who played well in limited action.
Damian Parms and Sharrod Neasman alternated series for a bit in the second half at strong safety, and Therezie got some late action there on the final series. Parms popped a couple of times on tape in run support, but other than that, neither player really stood out.
Poole’s second-half playing time came at free safety on the final three series.
Conclusions: Honestly, there isn’t much mystery at this position as the four players that are going to make the team: Neal, Allen, Ishmael and Therezie, are fairly known up to this point. The question is really about whether Neasman, Parms or Poole are going to do enough to compel the team to keep a fifth safety. Poole’s versatility to play cornerback probably gives him a lead in that regard, but there’s still time for the others to emerge.
What I Saw: If there was any concern over whether Nick Rose would unseat Matt Bryant, that was mostly erased on Thursday night. Rose missed back-to-back field-goal attempts, but only one of which counted on the official stat sheet due to a penalty on the first. Good snaps, good holds, so the mistake were purely kicker error in both cases. The kicker battle isn’t completely over, but Bryant would have to be especially bad hereafter to give Rose even much of a chance to reverse course.
Matt Bosher boomed his punts and was his usual self, particularly when it came to coverage when he was very effective stopping returns. The Falcons obviously weren’t trying to kick touchbacks so that their kickoff coverage team could get some work.
Bosher needed to be effective because the Falcons were trotting out a number of new faces on kicking coverage as Robenson Therezie, Eric Weems, Justin Hardy and Robert Alford were the only regulars from last season that opened the game. Notably Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin and Sean Weatherspoon were also working on that unit. I think that bodes very well for Poole and Goodwin’s chances of making the roster, although I’m not quite sure what it says about Weatherspoon.
While I doubt Weatherspoon is going to be cut, it does suggest that the team might see him as a backup rather than a starter on defense and making him a regular on their kickoff coverage is laying the groundwork for the eventuality that either Deion Jones or De’Vondre Campbell surpass him on the depth chart. Weatherspoon did work on Arizona’s special teams units last year, which I believe was the first time he had extended work there since his rookie season in 2010. It also could be the possibility that Weatherspoon volunteered to play on special teams this summer as a way of showing the team that he’s fully committed to helping the team. I can only speculate, but that seems exactly like the sort of thing Weatherspoon would do.
Both rookie linebackers got work on both kickoff and punt coverage, which is another reason I can’t draw too big a conclusion from Spoon’s presence on teams. Paul Worrilow also made his triumphant return to the starting punt coverage and did very well there.Worrilow hasn’t seen much of any special-teams reps since the start of 2013. I think Worrilow’s presence on special teams could go a very long way to compensating for the loss of Nate Stupar this offseason.
The Falcons tried three different combinations of gunners on punt coverage, all of them newcomers to the team. The fact that Goodwin and Poole were the “starters” again is a good sign for their roster prospects. DeMarcus Van Dyke also got work there, as did Devin Fuller, Aldrick Robinson and J.D. McKissic. It makes sense for the Falcons to try new guys there, since they already have a season’s worth of evidence in how players like Hardy, Therezie, Jalen Collins and others work there.
Notably Sharrod Neasman was the lone other player to get work as a personal protector on punts besides Weems. The former did well for the most part in covering punts.
On the return front, obviously McKissic’s big kickoff return was the highlight of all the special teams action. He ran untouched for the 101-yard score, with a nice alley created by good blocks from Campbell, Akeem King and Josh Perkins, among others.
On punt returns, there was nothing overly notable. McKissic had a nice 14-yard return when Redskins punter Tress Way outkicked his coverage, which allowed the young returner to get good yardage.
Conclusions: Special teams is going to be a massive factor in deciding some roster spots but it’s still too early to tell how things are going to play out.
I don’t think McKissic’s big return puts him in the driver’s seat as far as being the Falcons’ opening-day return specialist, since I believe the team really wants Fuller to win that spot. But it certainly does narrow the gap, transforming McKissic from an afterthought to a legitimate contender.
I don’t believe anybody else made as strong a statement when it came to coverage units. Although I do think the presences of Poole, Goodwin and LaRoy Reynolds on the “starting” coverage units is a good sign that they are in prime position to earn roster spots.