Here is another look at five players to keep your eyes on during tonight’s preseason matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers:
1. DE Ray Edwards
This will be the first action for the fans to get a look at the team’s lone free agent pickup in Edwards. He will have a chance to shine going up against the questionable pass protecting Steelers offensive line, although if he is facing Willie Colon, then he’ll see the team’s best pass protector for most of the night. A strong performance certainly can be a good launching point to a breakout 2011 season for Edwards, who is looking to prove he is legitimately one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
2. QB Matt Ryan
Little was made of Ryan’s mediocre at best performance against the Jaguars last week. Mainly because he is Matt Ryan, after all and has little to prove at this point in his career. With him set to earn his most extensive playing time against the Steelers tonight, having a bounce back game is not necessary, but certainly would be a positive. Ryan will be tasked with picking apart the league’s best defense for most of the night, and a strong performance will go a long with to instilling confidence in the cohesion of the offense as well as be a feather in Ryan’s cap as he gets some much needed revenge against a team that made him look mediocre in the 2010 regular season opener.
3. CB Darrin Walls
Walls will get a big opportunity tonight against the Steelers thanks in part to injuries to Dunta Robinson and Chris Owens. Walls will get opportunities in the Falcons nickel package with the starters where he will be tested with the explosive Steelers receivers such as Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Jerricho Cotchery. Walls is likely to land a spot on the Falcons 53-man roster at this point, but a strong performance certainly will cement his status on the team as someone to look out for in the future as a solution to some of the Falcons secondary woes.
4. OG Garrett Reynolds
Reynolds seems to have sewn up the starting right guard position this summer, although it’s debatable whether he achieved that on his own merit or thanks to a timely injury to Mike Johnson. Reynolds could put such doubts to rest with a strong performance against the physical 3-4 front of the Steelers. The Falcons historically under Mike Smith have struggled to push the pile and run the ball against 3-4 teams. Reynolds can hopefully change that. He’s expected to be matched up with Steelers Pro Bowl left end Aaron Smith for much of the night, who is returning from a knee injury. He’ll also be tested as a pass protector, as the Steelers crave the blitz and potentially find himself on the other side of LaMarr Woodley and/or James Farrior’s onslaught.
5. CB Dominique Franks
Franks had a bad outing against the Jaguars last week, and really needs a strong performance against the Steelers to solidify his status as the team’s new nickel back. He’ll get an opportunity as he’ll start in place of an injured Dunta Robinson and Chris Owens. Unlike against the Jaguars unproven young receivers, he’ll be tested against Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, along with others like Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, and Arnaz Battle. Franks cannot really afford another lackluster performance, otherwise it could mean that the Falcons seek an outside option to address their nickel concerns.