The preseason is over with the Atlanta Falcons prevailing over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the finale. It was an important game to decide a lot of the last remaining roster battles with the opportunity for several Falcons backups to shine.
As usual, I’ll go position-by-position to give my thoughts on which players I thought stood out, and which did not.
What I Saw: T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree alternated the first series. My assumption is that the coaching staff planned to start Yates, but also wanted to give Renfree a look with the starting offensive line. And likely based off which of the two had a better opening series, would determine who would get the remainder of the first-half snaps. Yates looked slightly better on his opening series and proceeded to remain in the game, and looked better thereafter. His touchdown toss to Freddie Martino was a solid pass with a clean pocket. He also looked competent running the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, with most of the problems being because the Falcons pass protection kept breaking down, leading him to have to check it down quite a bit. Yates looked comfortable and decisive for the most part in this game, something he hadn’t appeared like since the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins. The biggest black mark was when he took a sack in second quarter when he didn’t pull the trigger quick enough when Jake Matthews missed on a cut block. Renfree was fine, but the reality may have been the Falcons were looking for any excuse to keep the veteran Yates over him. I think the team found it with their respective performances.
Conclusion: Yates will likely win the backup job. The deck was stacked in his favor from the get-go with the Falcons trading up for him. He got outplayed by Renfree for a bit this summer, but Renfree never played to a level where he truly ran away with the job. Renfree just never played poorly; giving a consistent, competent effort each week. That just wasn’t enough to truly win the job, although I suspect Renfree will definitely get a shot on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
What I Saw: Devonta Freeman had an impressive game, but once again was buried on the depth chart behind Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan. Freeman made a lot of nice cuts, getting yards that his blocking wasn’t providing and ran with very good vision throughout the night. Still not sure why Falcons have limited his reps with first and second units this preseason, but there always seem to be a few team decisions that defy logic. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have things to complain about to increase the word count in these reviews, so I guess I can thank them for that. Smith looked great on that screen pass, showing his play-making abilities. Rodgers got a quick hook and did a fine job for the series he was in the game. Vaughan had a couple of nice plays and a couple of breakdowns. He’s a competent NFL player, but doesn’t do anything particularly well enough to really stick anywhere. It’s why the Falcons are the sixth team he’s played for in six years.
Conclusion: The biggest question mark here is going to be whether or not the Falcons can figure out how to distribute carries to Freeman, Rodgers and Smith in the regular season. All deserve touches, but it seems inevitable that one or more will be underutilized given the large shadow cast by Steven Jackson.
What I Saw: Patrick DiMarco got the bulk of the work in the first quarter before giving way to Maurice Hagens. Hagens hit most of his lead-blocking assignments, but is just not that sort of devastating blocker in the hole to clear space for the back. That showed when Freeman was in the game, as there were a few times when he needed to make a cut to try and avoid Hagens’ man.
Conclusion: Hagens’ pass-catching has been impressive, but his blocking not so much. And at the end of the day, his blocking is what matters more given the Falcons aren’t lacking for competent pass-catchers out of the backfield. He might be able to land on the practice squad, but barring significant improvement, he’s not likely to unseat DiMarco or anybody else anytime soon.
What I Saw: All the Falcons receivers were competent. Devin Hester was the only regular that got work in this game. Jeremy Ebert and Eric Weems seemed to get the bulk of the early work. Both had a couple of nice grabs that helped move the chains. Bernard Reedy was underutilized for the third time this preseason, but did a nice job with the ball in his hands. Like Weems, he’s a much more physical runner after the catch than someone his size should be. Freddie Martino’s first and only catch of the preseason was a good one on that bomb from Yates. The speed he displayed on that catch might be enough to get him a shot on the practice squad, although I wouldn’t expect him to fare better than many of the Falcons past practice squad receivers. Geraldo Boldewijn was held out, presumably because of an undisclosed injury. Courtney Roby got some early work on offense, but did little.
Conclusion: Judging from this game, Ebert, Weems and Reedy should be contesting for the fifth and/or sixth wide receiver spots. Ebert and Reedy are both eligible for practice squad, so that helps their causes. Roby’s subpar work on special teams throughout the preseason makes me question if he’ll make the roster, but I’ve heard numerous times that the coaching staff likes him a lot, so who knows.
What I Saw: All four tight ends got playing time, but nobody really stood out. Frankly, it’s a ho-hum position group for the Falcons, and it’ll make me really question the foresight of the front office if they stand pat here going into the regular season. Jacob Pedersen had his second grab of the preseason on a tipped pass, which was a heads up play by him to prevent interception. He missed a block against Dekoda Watson though, splitting a sack allowed with Reedy, who looked lost trying to chip Watson on that play.
Conclusion: Levine Toilolo’s play has been at best on par with a decent backup tight end. Bear Pascoe and Mickey Shuler have been good enough to merit being a third tight end on the depth chart, but the reality is a team with a good group of tight ends would not keep more than one, and possibly neither.
What I Saw: Jake Matthews and Lamar Holmes got the start. Matthews played most of the first half, and Holmes got work well into second half. Matthews was fine, his only blemish being a missed cut block that contributed to a sack on Yates. Holmes looked poor in this game, getting blown past by Jaguars third-string left end in rookie Chris Smith, a 2014 fifth-round pick. He struggled on the opening series against the Jaguars backups as well, missing a couple of assignments. It was the classic slow, lumbering Holmes we saw too often last year, but didn’t see last week against the Tennessee Titans. After being a lot more confident a week ago with Holmes as the potential starter, my confidence evaporated after this dismal performance in Jacksonville. He finished the game with two hurries allowed and a pressure given up. While Gabe Carimi didn’t get any work at right tackle, he looked comfortable as a run blocker at right guard early in the game. Based solely off this game (and for the record, that should not be the case), Carimi is likely a better option at right tackle than Holmes. Ryan Schraeder, Terren Jones and Pat McQuistan finished the game at the two tackle spots. Schraeder and Jones were competent, albeit not good. McQuistan looked rusty, working in the final two series.
Conclusion: I’m not sure what the Falcons are going to do at right tackle. It’s a tale of two Lamar Holmes, one competent and good, and one right a small hop from awful. If there is any optimism, it’s that potentially the other four starters could be good, which would make it a lot easier for Falcons to scheme to try and mask Holmes’ deficiencies. Schraeder’s play has improved these past two weeks since Baker’s injury, and he might be a healthy alternative to Holmes. Jones has improved after a very, very lackluster preseason last summer. He should stick on the practice squad, and will be much more deserving this year of that distinction.
What I Saw: Justin Blalock started and worked throughout the first quarter, giving up half a sack and a hurry. It wasn’t his best game, but Blalock has been a consistent enough player for long enough that I’ll give him a pass for not excelling against the Jaguars backup line. Peter Konz started at right guard before eventually moving to center later in the game. He looked just as he did last year while playing guard: awful. He got credit for giving up half a sack on same play as Blalock, as the Jaguars ran a pair of stunts. Their men got to the quarterback, while Matthews and Holmes each got credited with giving up a pressure on the play. Harland Gunn had a couple of nice blocks, but also got beat a number of times. Gunn’s explosion off the snap is impressive compared to other interior blockers the Falcons have, but he’s undersized and miscast as a guard. Gabe Carimi did a relatively solid job during his two series at right guard, and I think he’s solidified his roster spot. His inline run-blocking was solid, showing good pop off the snap. When asked to pull, he looked a little less explosive. James Stone and Adam Replogle also got work at left guard behind Blalock. Stone is athletic enough to pull, but is simply not very physical. Replogle is physical, but he’s still very raw from a technical and mental standpoint playing offensive line.
Conclusion: Since Gunn is not an ideal option in the event that Blalock or Jon Asamoah miss extended time, Carimi is the team’s most competent reserve guard at this point. I’d love to see Replogle get another year on the practice squad to develop more, but I have the feeling that Stone will get the gig since he’s been higher on the depth chart the past three weeks.
What I Saw: Joe Hawley did a nice job in the early going, as he and Carimi were able to consistently create push off the line with their double teams early on. Peter Konz finished the game with a pair of false starts. The key difference between the two is that Hawley is explosive off the snap, which allows a center with just average size and strength like himself to be effective getting position and creating push. Konz on the other hand, “eases” into his blocks, which makes him underwhelming when it comes to creating push. He can get positon, but rarely creates push and spacing for the running game. James Stone finished the game, and like Konz is not very physical off the line. I wish that Harland Gunn could have seen serious snaps. Like Hawley, Gunn is explosive off the snap and it would have been nice to see if he shows that same pop when he’s asked to snap the ball.
Conclusion: The reality may be that Gunn is the team’s second-best center. At least potentially, since he possesses some of the requisite tools you look for in a good center (e.g. quick hands, aggressiveness) that Konz lacks. But Konz is likely to stick on the roster despite a very underwhelming summer. At center, he was never bad. But never good either, and so much for the hope that he would show serious growth this summer after the past two seasons. As mentioned earlier, Stone likely will land a practice squad spot. He’s got the athleticism you like, but not the physicality.
What I Saw: The Falcons starting defensive line got work on two series and overwhelmed the Jaguars reserve linemen. Jonathan Babineaux looked very sharp, getting a hurry and a quarterback hit on first two plays of the game. Tyson Jackson continues to look slow, and could’ve done a better job beating blocks of Jaguars backup right tackle Sam Young. Kroy Biermann also didn’t have a great game, despite recording a half-sack. He beat a fullback to get that sack, and I only would have given him credit for a quarterback hit, since that was really Worrilow’s sack. Biermann just jumped on the pile. Osi Umenyiora blew past Cameron Bradfield to get a pressure which led to Malliciah Goodman’s sack. Jonathan Massaquoi and Stansly Maponga were effective throughout the night to get pressure. Maponga had three hurries, while Massaquoi had a quarterback hit and tackle for loss. Nosa Eguae even got a hurry in this game, but was key-blocked on the Jaguars second half touchdown.
Conclusion: Maponga has definitely earned a roster spot with his solid play each week. Still wondering why Roddy White gets such preferential treatment from the coaching staff, and Babs does not. They are the same age and Babs is arguably the team’s most valuable and best defensive lineman. With players like Maponga, Massaquoi and Goodman waiting in the wings, I’m curious to see if Jackson and Biermann get a reduction in snaps should their subpar play continue into the regular season.
What I Saw: Paul Soliai did a nice job clogging the middle in his brief workload to start the game. Travian Robertson filled in nicely, making a number of stops against the run. He reminds me of Vance Walker, when he was outplaying both Corey Peters and Peria Jerry from 2010 to 2012. Robertson is powerful and can control lesser centers one-on-one, and has pretty good range for a player his size to be disruptive and make stops laterally. Ra’Shede Hageman flashes every now and then, but you really see the utter lack of consistency since there were times when the Jaguars third-string blockers were able to easily control him and push him around. Cliff Matthews has been a much more effective and consistent player this summer, but he’s unlikely to make the roster. It’s a shame, but Matthews should latch on somewhere because he’s a high motor guy that can also play special teams. It’s by no means writing off Hageman, but the hopes that he would not be a multi-year project should be gone. It will take time for this coaching staff (or another) to get him to play up to his talent level every snap. If Donte Rumph played, he did not stand out at all.
Conclusion: The Falcons have a deep rotation thanks to the emergence of Robertson, who has never been a bad play, just has never gotten playing time. I’m curious to see if that continues to be the case, especially given Peters’ return. If the Falcons are going to deactivate one lineman on Sundays, it should be Hageman, but his draft status will save him. It might once again be Robertson, and he’ll once again draw comparisons to Walker there. Walker was better than Peters and Jerry for the first few years of their careers, yet seemingly draft status caused the Falcons to show more faith in the other two. And coincidentally enough, Walker is now in Kansas City replacing Jackson, and has had a very good summer while Jackson has been at best mediocre here in Atlanta.
What I Saw: Paul Worrilow was very effective blitzing in the early going, getting a hit and sack. Prince Shembo and Joplo Bartu got plenty of first-half work. Bartu struggled to get off blocks, but Shembo struggled to make plays. Shembo might prove to be a better fit beside Worrilow because he’s better at taking on and absorbing blockers in the middle of the defense. That could allow Worrilow to flow more freely to the ball and make plays. Bartu is probably better in most other areas (range, speed, coverage), but that doesn’t matter as much when it comes to playing in as much traffic as 3-4 inside linebackers often do. Pat Angerer, Tim Dobbins and Yawin Smallwood finished the game. Angerer has outplayed Dobbins the past three weeks, but neither player appear to inspire a ton of confidence moving forward should they be thrust into the lineup. Smallwood got his first stop of the summer in this game, but continues to look stiff and slow.
Conclusion: I suspect Shembo will start sooner rather than later. Bartu just appears miscast as an inside linebacker in the 3-4, and lacks the ideal size to play outside. If Falcons could swing a trade to move him to a 4-3 team, it would probably be better for both parties to be honest, especially if Falcons could pick up a more rugged interior guy in the process. Smallwood appears destined for practice squad and might want to lose some weight before next season. If I was making the decision, I’d choose Angerer over Dobbins for fourth spot, but then again, what do I know?
What I Saw: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both got reps in this game and did a fine job considering they weren’t exactly covering great receivers. I know Cecil Shorts did play in this game, but if he was on the Jaguars opening series, the Falcons pass-rush prevented Blake Bortles from being able to find him. Robert McClain and Javier Arenas looked solid against the Jaguars backups. Josh Wilson got beat for a touchdown by Marqise Lee, but it looked like he was expecting deep help from Sean Baker as the Falcons were in Cover-3. Wilson hasn’t made a ton of plays this summer in preseason games, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting a good deal of playing time with the starters. Jordan Mabin had a nice game as well, making a trio of stops. Ricardo Allen got beat a couple of times, but his coverage was less of an issue than his run support. Run support was what I thought was one of his biggest strengths at Purdue, so it was a bit of a shock. But he’s a rookie and thus still developing, so I won’t be too judgmental.
Conclusion: It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons keep all three: McClain, Arenas and Wilson. Allen is a developmental guy, but has enough ability and upside to think he might develop into a 2012 McClain-esque nickel guy down the road. Mabin is good enough to stick on the practice squad, but if the Falcons keep six corners on the roster, a seventh on the practice squad doesn’t make a ton of sense.
What I Saw: William Moore and Dwight Lowery got the quick hook from the starters. Kemal Ishmael got quite a bit of work, as did Sean Baker since Dezmen Southward was held out. Ishmael was solid in run support. Baker had a couple of nice plays, but again might have been the biggest culprit on the blown coverage on Lee’s 57-yard touchdown. He was supposed to be in centerfield, and seemed a bit too far to one side of the field, which allowed Lee to split him and Wilson easily for the score. Kimario McFadden almost was the goat on a touchdown pass to Kerry Taylor, getting sucked up while working in zone coverage. But Ricky Stanzi missed the touchdown pass to Taylor.
Conclusion: I’d like Ishmael as the top backup safety if not for my belief that coverage is much more important in Mike Nolan’s scheme than run support. I still think the Falcons would do themselves great service by signing a veteran insurance policy that is more proven in coverage than either Ishmael or Southward, but we’ll see if that happens. Baker is solid enough to land a practice squad spot, although ultimately I think we’re just hoping for a Shann Schillinger-esque special teams player than a major contributor on defense long-term. McFadden hits and I’m sure Keith Armstrong would love to add that to his special teams units as a possible practice squad guy.
What I Saw: Matt Bosher did an excellent job punting throughout the night. Loved that Bosher mixed it up with Ace Sanders on the sideline after a big return. Sanders was hardly touched throughout the night. Antone Smith and Ricardo Allen had a couple of positive moments working as gunners on punt coverage. Courtney Roby continues to be suspect there.
Conclusion: Bosher might now be in my top three favorite Falcons alongside Julio Jones and Babineaux. Yes, he might have surpassed Matt Ryan in that regard. Will be interesting to see how Falcons adjust their roster for coverage units. Some of the breakdowns have been due to certain players not getting a ton of reps there this preseason.