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Team Needs: Falcons Take Risk Without a Backup Quarterback

January 27th, 2014 Comments off

If polled, a majority Atlanta Falcons fans would probably tell you that it was by some miracle that quarterback Matt Ryan made it through the entire 2013 season healthy. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Ryan was hit 90 times, the fifth most allowed of any team in the NFL this past season. That was up from 83 hits he suffered in 2012 over 18 games, and continued the now six-year trend of ever-increasing punishment suffered by Ryan. When Ryan first arrived in Atlanta in 2008, he was hit just 43 times, which was the second lowest number allowed in the league that season. In the time since, Ryan has been put on the turf more with each subsequent season.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis and Matt Ryan

The time when a quarterback takes a hit that prompts an injury is essentially random. That’s illustrated by the fact that Ryan managed to absorb 90 hits during the course of the 2013 season without being forced to leave the field, while Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo injured his ribs upon taking his first hit of the season in Week 1. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the more shots you take, the more exposed you are to injury.

Obviously, the best way to protect Ryan is to improve the blocking up front. But the Falcons as an organization aren’t just tasked with protecting Ryan to the best of their abilities, but also protecting themselves by solidifying their depth at quarterback. Even if the team dramatically decreases the number of hits Ryan takes next season, any one of those shots could be the one that puts him out of the game for an extended period of time.

As it stands, Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree are the team’s lone backup quarterbacks. Davis showed promise as an undrafted rookie in 2012, but showed little progress in his second training camp. Renfree struggled after missing much of the offseason recovering from a chest injury, and then promptly suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the summer which forced him to miss the entire season. That is now three major injuries that Renfree has suffered to his throwing arm in the 12 months: elbow, torn pectoral and now shoulder. One of my major concerns with Renfree when I scouted him last year was his durability. Coupled with a subpar first preseason, it doesn’t bode well for him developing into the sort of competent backup quarterback the Falcons need.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Gonzalez Questionable But Expected to Play vs. Saints

November 21st, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez

Yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons announced their injury report for their Thursday Night contest against NFC South Division rival, the New Orleans Saints. On it, tight end Tony Gonzalez was among several players listed as questionable with a toe injury, but according to head coach Mike Smith (via ESPN’s Vaughn McClure), he is expected to play. Gonzalez did not participate in practices on Monday and Tuesday this week, but did participate on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Also listed as questionable are defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (tricep), quarterback Dominique Davis (knee), and safety Zeke Motta (hand). All three players were limited in all three days of practice this week. Davis suffered his injury in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, prompting the team to work out a pair of veteran quarterbacks in Trent Edwards and Mike Kafka this week. Neither passer was signed due to the expectation that Davis will be available against the Saints. Motta has a broken finger and is expected to play with a cast according to an earlier report this week.

Listed as out on the injury report is defensive end Malliciah Goodman, who also missed last week’s game with a calf injury. He was held out of practice again this week.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (shoulder), running back Jacquizz Rodgers (ankle), offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (knee/hip), and linebacker Paul Worrilow (shoulder) were all listed as probable. All three players fully participated on Wednesday, while being limited in practice on Monday and Tuesday due to the shortened week of preparation.

Notable injuries for the Saints include guards Jahri Evans (ankle) and Ben Grubbs (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (back), running back Darren Sproles (knee/ankle), safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), and tight end Ben Watson (concussion). All six players were listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. Both Evans and Sproles were held out of Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices. Also appearing on the injury report as probable are tight end Jimmy Graham (elbow/foot), defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle), and linebacker Curtis Lofton (hamstring/ankle). Cornerback Jabari Greer was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a torn ACL. He is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by second-year cornerback Corey White.

Takeaways from Last Week – September 2

September 2nd, 2013 Comments off

ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

The Falcons finalized their roster over the weekend and there were a few interesting moves. If you’ve ready any of my lengthy reaction reviews following the Falcons preseason games, you probably know my opinion on many of the players that made the roster. I want to devote this week’s column to discussing many of the players that were small surprises.

For the record, I would say that I was off on eight players making the roster when I did my initial prediction at the start of training camp. Forty-five out of fifty-three ain’t bad at all. Just to recap, the players I wrongly projected to make the team were: I had Sean Renfree as the third-string quarterback, instead the Falcons kept Josh Vaughan as their fifth tailback. Renfree went on injured reserve, as it’s obviously impossible to predict injuries. Marcus Jackson was on my 53-man roster instead of Kevin Cone as the fifth wide receiver. I picked Phillipkeith Manley as the backup guard, instead it was Harland Gunn. Manley was added to the practice squad. Micanor Regis was my pick for backup defensive lineman, but the Falcons instead opted to keep Peria Jerry. Pat Schiller and Brian Banks were my picks for the team’s backup linebackers, but Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow made it instead. Charles Mitchell and Terrence Johnson were the backup defensive backs, instead Shann Schillinger and Dominique Franks preempted them. Yes, I did pick Ryan Schraeder to make the roster, along with all the teams’ rookie draft picks.

This isn’t meant to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a little) but just as a vector to discuss some of the decisions the Falcons made with their roster. I should preface this by saying that I’m often critical of how the Falcons have managed their roster over the years. I think one of the larger deficiencies of this team is their struggles to develop players, especially undrafted players and guys at the back-end of their roster. When the Falcons kept Brett Romberg as a third center on their roster in 2011, it made little sense to me. What team needs three centers? Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were already on the team and had both proven they could ably play the spot. That same year the Falcons picked up Kirk Chambers at midseason to replace an injured Mike Johnson on the roster. But despite Joe Hawley’s struggles at guard that year, the Falcons never once considered plugging in Chambers there. In my eyes that’s a poor use of a roster spot. Instead the Falcons could have been smart to replace him with a player that they could develop for next year such as Shawn Andrews, Vince Manuwai, or  Leonard Davis. Essentially if a player is not contributing in some capacity by being active every Sunday, or isn’t a player that the team wants to develop for its long-term future, then that player is basically taking up unnecessary space. That might be overly harsh, but I always feel like there is room for improvement as you could replace that players’ spot on the team with someone who does fulfill those requirements.

Take for instance a player like Stansly Maponga, who made the roster as the sixth defensive end, but in truth because the Falcons will use a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 looks this year, he’s essentially eighth on the depth chart. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Jonathan Massaquoi will earn the majority of the reps at end in the Falcons 4-3 looks. But the Falcons also can play Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews there if need be. And in their 3-4 looks, alongside Goodman and Matthews, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will get reps at end. And they will get those reps at times when the Falcons employ a four-man front if the preseason is any indicator as to what will happen in the regular season. So the odds are very low that Maponga will play any snaps this year unless the Falcons are hit with several injuries up front. Maponga thus will probably be inactive every Sunday because I don’t think the Falcons consider him to be a highly valuable special teams player either. So the Falcons likely won’t get any value out of him on game days this year. But in the case of Maponga there is a clear long-term value to developing him. I personally didn’t think Maponga was that impressive this year, enough that I thought the Falcons could risk exposing him to waivers with the intent of putting him on the practice squad. The Falcons obviously felt differently, and understandably so because Maponga does have developmental potential. He may not have had a great rookie summer, but he had injury concerns as somewhat an excuse, and he could still be primed to take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, as many players do. Lawrence Sidbury did when he was here in Atlanta, and Maponga reminds me a lot of Sidbury, at least as an NFL prospect.

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Waiver Wire Scouting: Quarterbacks

September 1st, 2013 Comments off
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Is Vince Young really an option?

The Falcons have lost quarterback Sean Renfree for the season as he suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in the preseason finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That leaves the potential for the Falcons to bring in a veteran quarterback given some of the struggles that Dominique Davis has had this summer.

Several players were released or waived by their respective teams over the weekend, and I want to look at those that I feel could help the Falcons.

First we should delineate between a player being released and waived. Players with less than four years of experience are waived. Meaning that they have to pass through a waiver period of 24 hours. During that time teams are allowed to put a waiver claim on them. If multiple teams put claims on that player, the priority is determined by the team with the worst record. If a player is claimed, then his previous salary is absorbed by the new team. If a player goes unclaimed, then he is free to sign with any team he wants.

A player is released if he has four or more years of experience, and will not be subject to waivers. He’s essentially an unrestricted free agent, no different than if this was March. He’s free to sign and negotiate a brand new deal with any team in the league immediately.

Several of the quarterbacks cut over the weekend will be forced to go through the waivers system, including Greg McElroy (New York Jets), Thad Lewis (Buffalo Bills), and John Skelton (Cincinnati Bengals). Other players such as Brady Quinn (Seattle Seahawks), Trent Edwards (Chicago Bears), David Carr (New York Giants), and Vince Young (Green Bay Packers) were released. Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Jimmy Clausen was waived/injured, which means that if he goes unclaimed he will go on the Panthers’ injured reserve list. And no one will claim him because he’s terrible.

If looking at those names, the one that stands out is Carr. Carr has been the consummate reserve in New York over the years, playing four of the last five seasons there. Carr’s experience (79 career starts) makes him the ideal candidate for the Falcons. He has a quick release, generally makes good decisions, and will have more talent at the receiver positions in Atlanta than he’s ever played with. He contrasts with Dominique Davis, as Carr is more effective throwing the intermediate passes than Davis and doesn’t have problems going to his second progression quickly. Carr also is a better athlete than most realize and would at least stand a decent chance of avoiding pressure behind the Falcons questionable front five.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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Jaguars prevail over Falcons in preseason finale

August 29th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi celebrates a touchdown with teammates

Despite a pair of opportunities to win the game late, the Falcons dropped their fourth preseason game to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 20-16. The Falcons end their 2013 summer winless in the exhibition season, hoping to reverse their fortunes next Sunday when they open the season on the road against the New Orleans Saints. The overwhelming majority of Falcons starters got their rest on the evening, with the backups making their final bids for roster spots. The Falcons will have to cut down their roster from 75 to 53 players by Saturday.

Dominique Davis got the start at quarterback and was inconsistent for much of the night. He completed 18 of 35 passes for 175 yards with an interception. He was pulled from the game at halftime, but due to an injury to Sean Renfree, he was forced back into the game. Renfree finished 3 of 5 for 1 yard before his injury that forced him out of the game. Davis added 23 yards on the ground on a five carries. Josh Vaughan however led the team in rushing with 83 yards on five carries, including a 65-yard touchdown. Chase Coffman and Antone Smith each had four receptions for 47 and 23 yards, respectively. Darius Johnson was targeted a team-high nine times, but only caught a single pass for 11 yards. Kevin Cone (2 catches, 25 yards), James Rodgers (2 catches, 11 yards), and Jason Snelling (2 catches, 10 yards) also contributed. Jeremy Shelley got the work at kicker, but missed a 48-yarder which he followed by making a 42-yarder. He also missed an extra point following the Falcons’ first touchdown. Matt Bosher was forced to punt seven times due to struggles offensively, averaging 44.3 yards with a pair placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert Alford returned a pair of kickoffs for 34 yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers had a 27-gain on his lone kickoff return. Alford also added a pair of punt returns for 20 yards as well. The Falcons struggled on third downs, converting only 4 of 17 attempts. They managed to have 176 yards rushing on the night with 344 yards total.

The Falcons defense stepped up in the second half, and overall limited the Jaguars to 275 total yards. They bottled up the Jaguars’ second half passing attack, limiting them to just 46 yards on 15 attempts. For the entire night, the Jaguars converted just six of their 18 third down attempts. The Falcons defense was able to generate points thanks to a scoop and score by Jonathan Massaquoi, as well as pick off Jaguars’ passers twice. Robert James led defenders with 7 tackles on the night, including one for loss. Massaquoi added 4 tackles of his own, with a sack, forced fumble, recovery, and the aforementioned touchdown. Robert Alford (3 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), Joplo Bartu (4 tackles, 1 for loss), Zeke Motta (4 tackles), Adam Replogle (2 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 pass defended), Travian Robertson (2 tackles, 2 for loss), Shann Schillinger (3 tackles), Desmond Trufant (2 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), and Paul Worrilow (3 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The Falcons defense got off to a strong start. Pressure from Cliff Matthews forced an incompletion from Chad Henne on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Robert Alford stepped in front of a Henne pass for the interception. That gave the Falcons prime field position at the Jaguars’ 29-yard line less than a minute into the game. But the Falcons offense had a hard time moving the ball, and a holding penalty on Phillipkeith Manley set up a 3rd & 21, which the Falcons were unable to convert on a 11-yard completion from Dominique Davis to Drew Davis. Jeremy Shelley came on the field to attempt a 48-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide left leaving the Falcons without points off their initial turnover. The Falcons defense held on the ensuing Jaguars’ series that moved the ball 19 yards on six plays before forcing a punt by Bryan Anger that was downed at the Falcons own 9-yard line. After Jason Snelling burst up the middle for a 9-yard gain on first down, Snelling was bottled up for no gain on his two subsequent carries in short-yardage. That forced Bosher to punt, with the Jaguars taking over at their own 40-yard line. After an initial incompletion, Chad Henne completed four straight passes to get the ball into the redzone. Jordan Todman then burst up the middle for an 18-yard run into the endzone to put the Jaguars on the board with less than five minutes to go in the first quarter.

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Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Jaguars

August 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

We head into the final preseason game tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars with several players under the spotlight to showcase improvement and/or skill for their last bid to make the Falcons roster.

QB Dominique Davis

While it’s possible that the Falcons will use the finale vs. Jacksonville as an opportunity to give third string quarterback Sean Renfree some more reps, Davis however needs as many reps as possible. Davis has been largely mediocre through the first three preseason games in his bid to be declared Matt Ryan’s top backup. And while it seems like the Falcons are poised to enter the season with Davis in that role regardless, the possibility still remains that the Falcons could seek additional help off the waiver wire. That possibility increases if Davis does not fare well tonight against Jacksonville. Davis has struggled with his accuracy when throwing downfield. He’s completed just 40% of the 15 passes he’s thrown 10 or more yards (per Pro Football Focus), including a pair of interceptions. That is simply not good enough. Now in the sake of fairness, Davis hasn’t been blessed with great wide receiver talent to throw to during the preseason and the play of his offensive line hasn’t been stellar either. But most of Davis’ struggles are his own. He’s struggled at times with his footwork and mechanics, leading to errant throws. He’s also made his fair share of questionable decisions. If Davis can close out the preseason with a strong performance, it will provide a lot more confidence that he is deserving of the job of being Ryan’s primary backup, rather than just being the best among a bunch of poor candidates.

OT Ryan Schraeder

Schraeder has probably solidified his spot on the roster, thanks in part to a good training camp coupled with the injury to Mike Johnson. Schraeder hasn’t been bad in the preseason, but I wouldn’t exactly qualify him as being good either. Schraeder may get the start tonight at left tackle, and may see the majority of his reps come from that side of the line. He’s fared a bit better there than he has at right tackle when working in relief of starter Lamar Holmes. Tonight gives him the opportunity to solidify his status as the team’s swing tackle. While the coaching staff likes Schraeder, and deservedly so, he still appears that he might be at least a year or two away from really being ready to carve out a significant role in the lineup. Meaning the Falcons might need to sign a veteran off the waiver wire to fill in as the top backup at tackle. A strong performance against the Jaguars could change that.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 36 “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”

August 28th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by Steve Cohen once again to recap and discuss our observations from the Falcons-Titans games. We discuss some of the problems that plagued the Falcons, notably their pass protection … Discussion of the overall strength of the Falcons roster … Do they need to add help at WR, S, and OL … How is Robert Alford performing … Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes, and who are the weak links up front … Roster cuts and impending decisions … Who will stay or go? … What we want to see in the preseason finale vs. Jacksonville.

Ep. 36: Beggars Can’t Be Choosers [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Steve can be found on twitter: @SteveInBrooklyn

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Reactions to Falcons-Titans

August 25th, 2013 Comments off

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure Mike Smith will find a lot to like upon review

One of the more interesting takeaways I had from this Tennessee game may be the fact that Mike Smith refused to use any of his timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball back with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Falcons had all three timeouts. By not using those timeouts, Smith let 93 seconds bleed off the clock between plays to get down to the two-minute warning. The possibility existed that had he used those timeouts and the defense had made a stop on third down, he could have gotten another possession to evaluate his young players on offense. But he chose not to.

It’s hard to try and infer what that means. It would seem that he was a little bit disgusted with the Falcons play on the evening (I don’t blame him) and just wanted to get out of Nashville as soon as possible. But I do feel for the young offensive players who may find themselves unemployed over the next 48 hours without getting that last opportunity to showcase their skill.

Here are my positional thoughts on the performances in the game:

Quarterback

What I Saw: I thought Ryan handled himself fairly well given all the pressure he saw. He seemed lock into Julio Jones for the most part, and it’s not hard to see why. Jones was open quite a bit working against Alterraun Verner for much of the night. There was a couple of poor throws by Ryan, but given that the Falcons play-calling was fairly vanilla, he didn’t have Roddy White, and the pass protection broke down consistently on third down, there’s really not a lot he can do. Dominique Davis continues to frustrate me. He has talent and he made a couple of good throws and reads in this game. But he continues to be very erratic with his accuracy on downfield throws. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Davis has shown more than enough ability to merit being kept on this roster as a developmental backup. But he has not yet shown anywhere close to the ability I expect in a No. 2 quarterback. Now part of that may be because I hold backup quarterbacks to a slightly higher standard than most. And it’s clear to me that standard is much higher than the Falcons have given the likelihood that Davis will enter the season as Ryan’s top backup. As a method of comparison, only 2 of Ryan’s 8 incompletions were the results of poor throws. For Davis, 5 of his 7 incompletions were because of his own inaccuracy.

Conclusions?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons divide reps next week against Jacksonville. Traditionally the Falcons let one quarterback handle the entire game, with Davis being the likeliest candidate. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons try to mix Renfree into the game to get him some extra work, or will they be content to let him hold a clipboard this year. If I was to wager, I would expect Davis to play the entire game, since he is the guy that needs the most amount of work.

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Reactions to Falcons-Ravens

August 16th, 2013 5 comments
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Konz stood out against Baltimore

Just like last week, I’ll post my reactions to the Falcons’ performances in their second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. For the most part, I thought the Falcons had a good performance. Here I’ll try to recount the performances of as many players on the roster as possible and some basic conclusions about how it could effect the roster and potentially the season.

Quarterback

What I Saw: Ryan saw some pressure in this game, but again the Falcons gameplan with the starters was to try and keep him from getting hit with some quick throws and reads. Ryan made several nice throws downfield in this game, hitting Jones on a 32-yarder. Davis played better in this game, but it appeared the Falcons were definitely trying to help him out with their play-calling. He didn’t make a read downfield until his fourth throw to Coffman near the end of the first half. Outside that throw and the throw to Drew Davis that he fumbled at the end of the first half, Dominique Davis didn’t make any throws that were more than 5 or so yards in this game. He made some good throws and some nice runs to keep the offense in rhythm, but his solid play seemed to be more a result of Koetter’s play-calling than Davis really playing at a high level. Renfree entered the game at the end of the third quarter and was erratic. He made a couple of nice throws that were dropped. He appeared much more willing to throw the ball downfield as only a few of his throws were 5 or less yards. His accuracy was too erratic however, but I like the willingness to pull the trigger on downfield throws, a desirable trait in an NFL quarterback.

Conclusion?: No Seth Doege in this game, which means it’s highly doubtful he sticks on the team or practice squad. I think Koetter’s defense of Davis earlier this week and his play-calling indicates the team is intent on using Davis as the No. 2 and are willing to work harder to make him look better. Renfree appears set as the No. 3 and I didn’t see anything in this game to suggest that the pair should flip spots. But it’ll be interesting to see how their battle unfolds next summer, which will hopefully be the next time we see them hit the field once the regular season starts.

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