The first preseason game of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2018 season is in the books, and it was an overall lousy affair, to be generous, as the Falcons fell to the Jets 0-17. While every loss results in some laments — preferably aided by strong drink — the primary objectives for the first-team in the preseason are to tinker with schemes, knock some rust off, and to head into the locker room injury-free once the clock expires.
But positional battles are also a pivotal aspect of the preseason, and for rookies it presents the opportunity to cement their role in the team’s plans for the season. Let’s take a look at how the Falcons’ first-year players performed in their first game.
The Falcons’ first-round pick had an inauspicious start to the game, a screen pass inside Atlanta’s own 10 that resulted in a tackle for a two-yard loss on the first offensive drive. Ridley did not see much action in this game, but as one of the Falcons’ primary offensive weapons that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Ridley’s role should increase next week.
Ito Smith logged two carries for two yards and a reception for a loss, but received some run as a kick returner that resulted in a nice 25-yard return. He was flagged late in the first quarter for this new, convoluted lowering-the-head rule on a downfield block. Smith features breakaway speed, but it was not on display in this one.
The rookie wide receiver made a very nice play on special teams in the second quarter, rocketing downfield as a gunner on a punt to force a fair catch. He’s very much in the special teams mix, with perhaps some snaps on offense as somewhat of a gadget receiver. The Falcons have also utilized him at cornerback this summer, so his role seems to be as a jack-of-all-trades in different aspects of the game.
Weird game for Oliver, who was tasked with punt return duties for a spell. To say he looked uncomfortable is, well, an understatement. The preseason is all about throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks, but let’s hope last night puts an end to the Oliver-as-a-returner experiment. He finished the game with two solo tackles.
In his first action at the NFL level, The D-Battery lived up to his billing as a run-stopping space-eater on the defensive line. Senat showed why the Falcons spent their third-round pick on him during his time on the field, flashing his advanced hand usage to establish leverage and put the kibosh on the rush. It was preseason game one, but Deadrin Senat looked every bit the imposing addition to the defensive tackle rotation that Dan Quinn expects him to be.
We’re all hoping that Duke Riley can turn it around in his sophomore season, but if he continues to scuffle, Foye Oluokun appeared plenty capable filling the role as a linebacker. The rookie from Yale recorded two solo tackles, including a third down stop in the second quarter, and an assist. The Falcons’ defense is deep, and we got a glimpse of what this sixth-round pick can provide should he find himself in a starting role. Foyelicious, indeed.
Former Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert played the majority of the second half, which was a good thing because my hands were beginning to shake from first down withdrawals. He began the half by scrambling to his left and dropping an absolute beauty into the hands of Dontez Byrd for a gain of 27 yards. Finally: offense! Benkert has a big arm, and an apparent penchant for the deep ball. He finished his evening 9/17 with 125 yards and an interception.
A recent addition to Atlanta’s squad, Celestin made the most of his snaps in the second half, tallying three solo tackles (two for losses) and a sack. Again: linebacker depth, but Celestin looked very nice in his reserve role.
The undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Cincinnati established an early connection with backup-backup quarterback Kurt Benkert, providing the only offensive spark in a game starved for it. Gray finished the night as Atlanta’s leading receiver, securing four targets for 83 yards, including a 30-yard Benkert pass. We’ll keep a close eye on Devin Gray as the preseason progresses.