If you’re wondering where some of the team’s biggest position battles fall at the moment, well, so were we. After Friday night’s game, here’s a closer look at the battles we’ve been tracking since the beginning of the year, with a longer look forthcoming for a muddled cornerback position later on in the week.
I’ve been in the front seats of the Luke McNitt bandwagon since the Falcons brought him aboard, more or less, which is why I regret to inform you that Ricky Ortiz seems to be out in front at the moment. McNitt had a couple of nice blocks in pass protection, but Ortiz got on the field first and had better luck as a run blocker, so Ortiz is currently out in front based on game action.
Advantage: Ricky Ortiz
You’re trying to figure out who the #4 receiver is and which five or six guys will end up sticking on the roster, and I’m here to say that we’re absolutely not much closer to knowing that than we were before Friday night’s game. The returner gig is similarly open to interpretation, but it’s fair to suggest that Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall are still out in front for spots four and five, at the very least.
Justin Hardy snagged an 11 yard pass over the middle, while Marvin Hall had a nice special teams tackle and did solid work as a returner. Hardy’s proven his worth as a receiver and blocker for years now, while Hall’s speed and special teams value has had the team hyping him all offseason. We didn’t see a lot from Russell Gage, but given his special teams value, he’s probably the favorite for #6 duties. The only complication here is Devin Gray, who played very well with the reserves and could conceivably push hard for consideration in the coming weeks.
Advantage: Marvin Hall/Justin Hardy/Russell Gage
The Falcons started Wes Schweitzer, who had an up-and-down run early, including lost footing and a missed block. Brandon Fusco came in and played a much cleaner game, one that drew praise from Dan Quinn. He needed that after Schweitzer came on and practiced well all summer long, putting him in surprisingly strong position in the battle for right guard duties.
As long as Fusco looks good and stays healthy throughout the rest of preseason, he’s still the easy favorite for this job, and I imagine he’ll have it.
Advantage: Brandon Fusco
Ty Sambrailo is the favorite to win this gig, but he was out against the Jets. That left Austin Pasztor and Matt Gono, and neither showed enough to have Sambrailo shaking in his boots, assuming he wears boots.
Pasztor was downright shaky in his snaps, I thought, while Gono mixed in some overall solid blocking with some misadventures in run blocking, which was the case for most of the line. Both players will need to step up if they want a serious chance of knocking off Sambrailo, however weak a candidate he may be.
Advantage: Ty Sambrailo by default
I still don’t know how the snaps are going to shake out at this position, but I do know Deadrin Senat did everything he needed to in order to push for playing time in 2018. He occupied blockers and showed impressive strength and hand usage against New York, and while it’s early the Falcons should have the depth they need at the position. I didn’t see enough out of any of the candidates for a fifth and final spot at DT to declare one ahead of the other.
Let’s see if Dan Quinn gives us some more clues in the next couple of weeks here, and whether Senat continues to play well. Chances are it’ll still be Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford splitting snaps with him early in the year.
I don’t think there’s a true battle here, given that Dan Quinn was quick to say that Duke Riley has improved and he’s not overly worried about him after what most fans and analysts thought was a shaky preseason game. I do think Foye Oluokun played a good game, that he’s got the coaching staff’s eye, and that Riley can’t really afford to play stiff over the next three preseason games and hold on to that job in uncontested fashion.
That said, Riley’s got the quasi-vote of confidence and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.
Advantage: Duke Riley