As I wrote last night and this morning, the Falcons got a lot out of their starters, and that was deeply encouraging. Their night was not without its struggles and stars, and we’ll run down three players who fit the bill for each category right here.
WR Calvin Ridley
Ridley was great, full stop. He looked slippery on the opening kickoff and threw a very effective stiff arm, and then shortly after, he caught a 36 yard pass from Matt Ryan that saw him get loose down the field and stay focused on the ball.
Ridley finished as the team’s leading receiver, and there’s no question he’s as advanced and quick as he was advertised to be.
S/CB Damontae Kazee
I don’t know if Kazee will steal some nickel cornerback snaps away from Brian Poole (who looked great himself) or if he’ll be the third safety, but the Falcons have to get him on the field. He was only in the game for a handful (perhaps even only one?) snap, yet had a terrific interception of Patrick Mahomes that showed just how aggressive and ballhawkish he can be, and Kazee’s sound tackling a week ago against the Jets also showcased his reliability.
We’ll have to see if it translates over into the regular season, but right now, it’s hard to imagine him rotting away on the bench.
FB Ricky Ortiz
You could justifiably go for Brandon Fusco or Matt Ryan or even Tevin Coleman here, if you wanted, but those guys are all veterans who are expected to play well. Very little was expected of Ortiz, and he’s exceeded those modest projections by a mile.
Right now, Ortiz looks like the easy favorite to win the fullback job. He blocked well throughout the Chiefs game after blocking well during the Jets game, and he even reeled in two catches for 19 yards against Kansas City. He’s not the most physical blocker in the game, but he’s got good instincts, good technique and is a quality athlete, and that’s probably more than enough to push him past Luke McNitt at this point.
QB Kurt Benkert
Benkert was victimized, repeatedly, by his offensive line. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that his throws were off-target and he simply wasn’t as poised and confident as he looked against the Jets, and that’s going to put a damper on his bid to win the backup job, however much of a longshot that might have been in the first place.
Benkert should wind up on the practice squad, but he’ll need to continue to show a quality arm and good decision-making to be part of this team’s long-term planning. He didn’t last night.
RB Ito Smith
Smith busted off a handful of good runs against the Chiefs, and he’s a virtual lock to make the roster in these eyes. Yet he still didn’t have a very good night.
First of all, Smith severely damaged his chances of becoming this team’s kick returner when he muffed not one but two kickoffs. While Marvin Hall hasn’t lit the world on fire to this point, Smith isn’t making the most of his opportunities, and that’s a shame given his obvious speed and playmaking ability. Couple that with several pedestrian runs and you have a night that wasn’t all that memorable for the rookie. Thankfully, he should have plenty of those ahead of him.
CB Isaiah Oliver
It wasn’t a truly tough night for Oliver—he showed some flashes on defense, and had a nice special teams tackle—but for a promising second round pick, he continues to have a quiet summer. He just plain messed up against Gehrig Dieter, missing his opportunity to jam the Chiefs receiver and getting burned as a result, and obviously needs a little work in coverage in general before he’s a high-end asset.
That said, as good as Kazee and Brian Poole are, Oliver has length and talent to beat them both out for a job. I’m confident that sooner than later, we’ll see that come through, even if it’s not in preseason.