Roster battles are never decided in the first week of preseason. Heck, it’s not clear the first week of preseason even moves the needle on most battles. That said, there were some clear standouts from each of the position battles we’ve been closely watching, and at the very least, they ensured their names will be in the conversation when the time comes to set the 53 man roster.
Here, in no particular order, and some of the battles and quality performances we saw welded together last night.
Swing Tackle: D.J. Tialavea
On a night where more or less every swing tackle option scuffled a bit, I thought D.J. Tialavea was the obvious winner. He looked pretty sturdy for a man who has spent a handful of days at the position, and the mere fact that Dan Quinn saw fit to toss him in the fire against with the second team tells you the Falcons are taking a long look at him. Nothing was decided last night, but Tialavea may have legitimately thrust himself into the conversation at the battle.
The likeliest outcome remains a stint on the practice squad, but keep an eye on our newest tackle.
Guard: Ben Garland & Wes Schweitzer
Sean Harlow showed he’s not quite ready for primetime, which is to be expected for a fourth round rookie. I thought Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer each had their strengths last night, though.
Garland came on with the starters and fared well as the Falcons marched down the field initially. Schweitzer had some trouble with Suh, sure, he he also looked stronger and more capable than a year ago. Garland may have a slight edge in this battle, but it’s impossible to tell this early, and we probably won’t have this one decided until late.
Returner: Andre Roberts
Roberts had a nearly 40-year punt return, one of the most impressive plays early in the game, and looked like the obvious favorite for the returner gig that he is. There wasn’t much he could have done to lose the job short of fumbling every chance he got, but it was still a winning performance.
Wide Receiver: Marvin Hall
I thought Hall was very impressive on a night where Anthony Dable and Reggie Davis also shone. Unfortunate return fumble aside, though, he looked good on returns and capable as a receiver, even snagging a Matt Simms pass that was behind him at one point. I thought he was a strong contender for a practice squad spot, and he largely made the good early impression he’ll need to.
Don’t fumble again, though, maybe.
Running Back: Terron Ward
Brian Hill’s a fifth round pick with promise, so he remains the favorite. His initial impression on the field was not a strong one, though, while Terron Ward showed his trademark solid blocking, easily led the team in rushing, and caught a handful of passes. It was a strong effort from a guy who also offers special teams value, and the first salvo in what should be an interesting battle the rest of the way. Don’t make the mistake of ruling out Ward too early, as I’ve been guilty of in the past.
Linebacker: Duke Riley
De’Vondre Campbell’s pick was amazing, but he’s going to get plenty of playing time regardless of what happens going forward. Duke Riley is technically competing with Kemal Ishmael for the starting job on the weakside, and Riley had a couple of hiccups but turned in a fine first effort. Ishmael looked pretty good aside from a missed tackle, which is very unusual for him. I do think Riley’s got this more or less sewn up regardless of how things go from here.
Cornerback: Jarnor Jones
C.J. Goodwin scuffled, Jalen Collins had a lousy game, and Deji Olatoye was quietly solid, which is probably all he needs to be. Jarnor Jones, meanwhile, snagged a pick and displayed solid awareness in coverage, albeit against deep backups, which meant he stood out when seemingly everyone else around him was getting burnt by David Fales and some dude named Stringfellow.
Goodwin and Olatoye are extremely strong contenders to make this final roster, but Jones couldn’t have hurt his case last night.
Who stood out to you last night?