Falcons Remaining Position Battles on OffenseThe Atlanta Falcons will play their fourth and final preseason game tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The final preseason game typically marks crunch-time for many of the young players competing for a chance to stick on the final 53-man roster. Starters will be held out, and the Falcons backups will have extended opportunities to prove themselves on the field.
Let’s examine a few of the few remaining key position battles on offense. The performances of respective players at these positions tonight will be the final determining factor in whether they make the Falcons roster this season:
While Sean Renfree has pulled ahead of T.J. Yates, thanks to the latter’s poor preseason play, that doesn’t mean that Renfree has automatically won the job. Renfree is still a relatively green NFL quarterback, and it remains to be seen if the Falcons want to have him as the one player that could make the difference in whether the team makes the playoffs or not, in the event of a Matt Ryan injury. Yates’ struggles could easily be attributed to still having a poor grasp of the offense. And it’s feasible that the coaching staff decide that with more time Yates’ play could improve as the season wears on.
But all that will depend on their play in the final preseason game. It’s likely that both Yates and Renfree will split snaps, each playing an entire half of the game. It should give both ample opportunities to prove their mettle and be the major deciding factor in who stays. If Yates can close the gap on Thursday night against the Jaguars, then it’s conceivable he could win the job. But if the status quo remains, and Renfree outplays Yates, the job goes to the former.
Fifth/Sixth Wide Receiver
The Falcons will have to decide whether or not they want to keep up to six wide receivers on their roster. The first four spots are locked up between Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester. But one or two more spots could be available, with six players competing for them. But in reality, it may only be half of them with a realistic shot to make it. Those players include Eric Weems, Courtney Roby and Bernard Reedy as probably the most likely of the six land a spot on the final roster. But that doesn’t mean one can write off Jeremy Ebert, Geraldo Boldewijn and Freddie Martino. All six players should see plenty of time against the Jaguars with the team’s top four wideouts likely to be held out. If any clearly emerge and begin to show separation from the others, then they can stick.
Weems and Roby should be able to use their experience on special teams coverage units to be the front-runners for the job. The rest may be left competing for practice squad spots. Reedy shined throughout the offseason and early portion of camp, but has had minimal impact during the past two preseason games. Boldewijn seems to manage to make a play in every preseason game, but he’s still very raw as a pass-catcher. Perhaps, he too can throw his hat into the ring with special teams ability. Ebert and Martino are the two biggest long shots of the group, and may need to have big performances offensively in order to leapfrog any of the other four guys.
Backup Tight End
Bear Pascoe was penciled in to win this job at the start of camp, but was outplayed by Mickey Shuler in the first two preseason games, making it so that the job was even. Pascoe’s play has improved since then, and he got a boost from the unfortunate head injury suffered by Shuler last week that forced him to miss this past Saturday’s exhibition game against the Titans. If Shuler is healthy and able to suit up against the Jaguars, then this battle will get interesting. It’s likely that whichever player can emerge the best as a blocker, could win the job. While Jacob Pedersen remains on the roster, he’s really just a body at this point. He’ll need to really shine in the preseason finale just to make the practice squad.
Backup Offensive Line
While offensive line coach Mike Tice is not prepared to say that Lamar Holmes has won the starting right tackle spot, it’s likely that Holmes indeed has won the job. Barring something unexpected happening between now and September 7, it’s likely Holmes will suit up as a starter against the New Orleans Saints when the regular season kicks off on that day. That leaves the backup positions as still being contested in the final days of the preseason.
The Falcons have typically held nine offensive linemen on their roster throughout Mike Smith’s tenure, but could potentially go with one less if they like the versatility of certain players. Currently eight players are competing for what may only be four reserve spots.
Gabe Carimi is expected to get his first action of the preseason, having been held out up to now due to an ankle injury suffered on August 5. He’ll likely start at right tackle and if he can perform well, he’ll be expected to land a roster spot. Given that fellow tackle Ryan Schraeder has performed throughout camp, he should be relatively safe to land one of those spots. But Schraeder’s play has been erratic, and tackle Terren Jones looked relatively solid in his first preseason action last week against the Tennessee Titans. Pat McQuistan is the lone other tackle that should see time, but when signed last week appeared to be just a body.
Center Peter Konz is probably the safest of the reserves to stick, but he’ll see some heat from right guard Harland Gunn, who has performed the best of all the reserve blockers during the preseason. Undrafted center James Stone leapfrogged Adam Replogle on the depth chart at left guard last week. Both players are roster longshots given their lack of experience, but will be pushing for practice squad spots.
Overall, Carimi, Schraeder, Jones, Konz and Gunn are the main competitors for what may be only four remaining spots on the roster. It’s also plausible that if all five players play well against the Jaguars, they could decide to keep all five, albeit unlikely.