With two games to go in the preseason before the real action begins, now seems like a good a time as any to take stock in what the first two games have showed us. I'm a firm believer that preseason games don't tell you about the team, but they do tell you something about the talent. That's what we're going to look at here.
Let's start with the money makers on offense.
What have we learned here? Ryan, when he has a pocket is darn near unstoppable. He's picking up where he left off from last season. There's not much we've learned that we didn't already know.
As for Dominique Davis - he looked much better in the Ravens game than against the Bengals. That's a sign that he takes coaching well and can apply it. The Ravens game restored faith in the second year signal caller that he can be a competent backup for Ryan.
Sean Renfree has shown why the Falcons took a chance and drafted him in the 7th. He can make all the throws and has shown good accuracy and sound decision making. Repeated drops from his receivers hurt his numbers, but he could push Davis for the #2 spot next year.
Julio is beast. And our offense is just completely different when he's out there. Roddy continues to be reliable and hard to cover. These guys are solid - the real questions start at #3.
So far, Harry Douglas has looked good. His 42 yard reception in the first game showed glimpses of his break-out speed that we haven't seen since his rookie year. He still struggles in the wide routes, but in his natural slot position, he's come through nicely. Whether he can keep it up will be the real question.
The nice surprise has been with Drew Davis. Fans have been wondering if Davis or Cone would ever step up, and it seems that Drew has finally answered the call. Already a good blocking receiver, Davis has been consistently getting passes this preseason from the first team and doing something with it. He looks to have already locked up the #4 spot and could push HD for the #3 spot if he should slip in his performance.
Folks, the rumors of Steven Jacksons demise were largely unfounded. While the Bengals game left many wondering, the Ravens game answered those doubts. Aside from the normal numbers, the one thing that has stuck out to me is this: in his two preseason games so far, Jackson has only lost yards once (-3 against the Bengals). The guy finds ways to get something even if nothing is there - a far cry from the shoelace tackles we saw that would bring Turner down.
While JaQuizz and Snelling have continued to deliver what we've seen out of them the past few years, it's Antone Smith who is making a strong case that he should snag the fourth running back spot. He's shown those flashes of explosive speed with some nicely designed passes in the flats. If he can continue this trend, he has a great shot of making the 53 man roster again - while holding off the push of guys like Ronnie Wingo and Donald Russell.
With Tony G taking time off for his family during training camp, we've gotten an extended look at both Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo. While the potential in Toilolo is undeniable, it's been Coffman who has consistently impressed. He seems to have a very good rapport with Ryan and has shown that he runs nice routes and has very soft hands. He will never be mistaken for a great blocker, but he did show some improvement in the Ravens game - throwing key blocks that helped net Jackson a few more yards. Coffman is all but a lock for the 53 man roster, and could be a key contributor this year in our 2 TE sets.
Without a doubt, this is the area where most questions revolve. So far, it's a mixed bag. The good news is that Peter Konz is looking very good in his natural position at Center. He's had a very solid preseason, and that's going against both Geno Atkins and Haloti Ngata. Sam Baker has also emerged as one of our best linemen, and Blalock - though he's had some rough moments - is the definition of "steady." The real questions, though, are on the right side of the line.
According to PFF, Lamar Holmes is doing ok in pass blocking, but his run blocking is quite poor. On my own review of the games, I can say that I agree with this assessment. However, Holmes has also been "baptized by fire" by having to face two very good defensive fronts, with the Ravens having the very good Elvis Dumervil school Holmes in the second preseason game. Thankfully, Holmes has shown improvement. It's clear he's still adjusting to the speed of the NFL, but there is reason to believe he can be serviceable this year - with the potential for more down the road.
The bigger concern - at least to me - is at the Right Guard position. While it has been handed to Garrett Reynolds thus far, he's had a less than stellar start. He was absolutely humiliated on a key third down play against the Ravens, and had some pretty sour moments against the Bengals as well. If he continues to play this way, the Falcons may be forced to try one of their other guys at RG.
Jonathan Babineaux wants you to know that he can rush the passer, as he has clearly shown through two games so far. Babs looks fast and strong, and could be a key element to our pass rush this year. Corey Peters has also bounced back and is back to being a good run stopper. In fact, the Falcons held Ray Rice to just 10 yards on 8 carries - an impressive feat.
The real question for our DT position is the depth. Noted pariah Peria Jerry has shown occasional glimpses of competence, but has largely been absent from any meaningful plays. And sadly, the hopes of Travian Robertson emerging as a key rotational piece nearly eroded with his reduced snap count. However, there is a name to pay attention to: Adam Replogle.
The undrafted free agent out of Indiana has been getting more snaps (nearly twice as many as TRob) and has turned in some quality performances. Replogle has been consistently getting push in the middle and through 2 games, has 1 sack, 2 hurries and 4 tackles. With an increasing snap count, it's possible that this UDFA may have caught the eye of the Falcons coaches and could be vying for a roster spot.
Those lamenting the loss of John Abraham should be somewhat comforted by the great start that Osi Umenyiora has had to the preseason. Not only has Osi been getting good penetration, he's also proven a capable run stopper - something he was not previously known for.
As for our other Ends? It's a mixed bag.
Jonathan Massaqoui has shown flashes of the burst that many hope will make him a surprise as a sack contributor. While he hasn't seen first team snaps yet, the hope is he can contribute in a rotation.
Malliciah Goodman has shown that he is a very good run stopper, but lacks the moves to be a factor in the pass rush.
Stansly Maponga, on the other end, has shown some pass rushing skills but nothing overly impressive so far. He's definitely more of a project player than a year one contributor.
As for Kroy Biermann - I believe his impact will be as more of a linebacker than anything.
This has been one of the areas of concern for fans this off season and it has now also turned into one of the most interesting. While Spoon and Dent seem to be relative locks for their positions, the questions now surround whether Stephen Nicholas is a true three down linebacker. Nicks has played well - don't be deceived by the talk - but there are many hoping that he would get challenged by some of our young guys.
And it's happened.
Out of the blue, the name Paul Worrilow has suddenly become remarkably relevant. The UDFA out of Delaware has done nothing short of stun Falcons fans with his great play through 2 preseason games. He's lead the team in tackles both games and even registered a sack against the Ravens. PFF has him graded as one of our best linebackers, and he's not only a sure tackler but is showing some signs of being decent in pass coverage. The question now is whether he can keep this up and secure a spot on the 53 man roster.
The other name emerging in camp talks has been that of Joplo Bartu. The Texas State product has been praised for his sound tackling and for being good at covering tight ends. He's shown some glimpses of that in the first two preseason games, so he's another name to keep an eye on.
Additionally, Kroy Biermann has been taking quite a few snaps at OLB - with many remarking that he seems very comfortable in that position. Don't rule out the possibility that Biermann takes the starting OLB position away from Nicholas before all is said and done.
Sadly, the remarkable story of Brian Banks is diverting off script - as the 28 year old rookie has failed to register any significant snaps so far. At this point, I believe the best that fans can hope for is for Banks to make the practice squad.
Fans needn't worry about DeCoud and Moore, as they both appear healthy and ready for the regular season. The more interesting battle is around who will emerge as their backups. And right now, it looks like our two seventh rounders - Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta - have made some early impressions.
Both have shown that they can contribute on specials teams - a key for making this roster when you're not a starter - and they have both shown the ability to wrap up guys and tackle. If they can keep this up, Schann Shillinger may be out of a job.
Charles Mitchell - our sixth round pick from last year - has had a decent preseason so far, but the next couple of games could be key in determining whether he holds off the rush of Ishmael and Motta.
Last, but not least, is the position of much intrigue. Let's start with this: Asante Samuel looks like the great corner he has always been, so we have few concerns there. But what about Trufant and Alford?
To be sure, Alford has been impressive. He is a more physical corner and a surprisingly good tackler. However, his aggression showed it's negative side when he drew a pass interference call against the Ravens. Take away that one blot, and what you're left with is a very impressive rookie who will have a nice career with the Falcons. Early returns are very positive.
As for Trufant, many assume that since Alford has shown so nicely that he's not performing well. That's not the case at all. Trufant is a different style of corner. He's a cover corner who looks to take a receiver out of the equation for a quarterback - and he's already showing that he can do just that. You're not hearing his name much because the QBs just aren't throwing his way. And while he did get trucked by a much larger Jermaine Gresham against Cincinnati, he showed he's willing to get into the mix as well. Trufant has a ton of promise like Alford, it's just manifested differently.
As for the other guys, McClain has had a somewhat mixed preseason so far. He's had some poor lapses in coverage and if he continues to do so, Alford could challenge to take some of those nickel snaps away. The only other name of note is one Falcons fans love to hate: Dominique Franks. Number 24 had a very good game against the Ravens and is desperately clinging to the roster spot he lost last year before getting picked up again later in the preseason. With his familiarity of the system, Falcons fans may see more of Franks for yet another year - though hopefully never as a punt returner again.
As you would expect, the preseason has shown some nice surprises and some disappointments. It's still too early to make any predictions about how the team will do, but it is clear that the Falcons have a roster of talented players. Whether that talent can come together and deliver another winning season and deep playoff run is the bigger question to be answered. The next game will be critical in shaking out some of these lingering questions.
What say you about the 2013 Falcons so far?