Tonight against the Ravens in the preseason finale, here are five players you should keep your eyes on:
1. OC Joe Hawley
Hawley is set to start the regular season as the team’s starting center. While he may not get a ton of reps tonight as Mike Smith is expected to pull the starters fairly early, whatever reps he does earns will be important. He needs to have a good performance in order to inspire confidence that he can handle the starting position. Fortunately for Hawley, he won’t have to deal with Haloti Ngata tonight, as the Ravens plan to rest many of their key defensive starters.
2. OG Mike Johnson
The battle for the right guard position is not quite over, and Johnson should get ample opportunity to showcase his talents to night. He is in a position that a strong performance against the Ravens beefy 3-4 front could propel him past Reynolds, like a thief in the night.
3. MLB Akeem Dent
Dent has been limited somewhat by injuries this preseason and has yet to earn extensive minutes on regular defense. Tonight should be his opportunity with the Falcons starters only expected to make brief appearances. He should get at least a quarter or two of reps in the middle. With the Falcons strong depth at linebacker, this may be the last time we get an opportunity to see Dent play in 2011.
4. DT Trey Lewis
While the severity of Corey Peters injury has yet to be revealed, if he is set to miss the season opener, the Falcons will likely be forced to keep at least one extra defensive tackle on the roster. That spot would likely be Lewis’s to lose. Although the team might be better off turning to the waiver wire this weekend to fill any void here. Lewis has been unimpressive the past two years when he has gotten on the field, and hasn’t really turned heads this preseason. He needs a strong performance against the Ravens, or his Falcon and NFL career may be over soon.
5. RB Gartrell Johnson/Antone Smith
If the Falcons intend to keep a fifth back on the roster, neither Johnson or Smith have shown much this preseason to make either a strong candidate for that spot. Tonight’s game may be their last opportunity to definitively show the Falcons brass that they deserve a roster spot, rather than simply earning one by default. Johnson at this point is probably the front runner, but the gap between the two isn’t wide enough where Smith can’t overcome it.