Hot takes are the order of the day after messy preseason football, and despite the lack of things to celebrate (I’m glaring at you, Giorgio Tavecchio, I trusted you) we still have a few items to key on. Let’s get to them.
Ito Smith is the #2 back, period
This was never in all that much doubt, but Brian Hill’s stellar early summer and Qadree Ollison’s hype at least raised the possibility that Ito might be challenged for the backup job.
He’s slammed the door shut the last two weeks, though, with Washington serving as a particularly potent test case. He was a crisp 5 for 23 and a touchdown on the ground, caught a nine yard pass, and generally looked as shifty and difficult to tackle as he did in his very best games in 2018. Given his well-rounded game and penchant for punishing defenders, he should have no trouble picking up 10-15 touches per game when Devonta Freeman tires of running guys over.
That leaves the Falcons with a tough decision between Hill and Ollison for the third spot—I assume the team is keeping four backs at most, and Kenjon Barner will be one of them if they do—but it frees Ito up to rest and get ready for the regular season.
The defensive line is good
It would be a complete overreaction to suggest that limited snaps for Tyeler Davison, Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, and Grady Jarrett suggest they’ll be an imposing starting foursome. It would be borderline irresponsible to say that Jack Crawford, Deadrin Senat, and John Cominsky have all shone brilliantly at times this offseason. This is the Falcons’ defensive line we’re talking about.
And yet they have. Honestly, the defense has looked better this preseason than they have in some time, and the line in particular has looked borderline nasty at times. That’s come against a motley collection of inferior offenses and backups, but that’s promising after multiple years of mostly lousy play up front where it really counts. The team has put together an imposing collection of talent on paper, and seeing them translate that into game action is enough to stir the heart of even the most dedicated Falcons curmudgeon. It might be their best group in years.
The linebacker corps is better
Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell alone give you a good group. What happens when you add a more experienced Foye Oluokun, an improved Duke Riley, and an engulfed-in-flames-of-excellence Jermaine Grace?
Really good things.
Honestly, I don’t know how you can watch Grace play this summer and not come away wit hteh conclusion that he not only belongs on this team, but improves it. He’s fast and (I’m sorry) graceful in a way few linebackers are, and he’s made so many plays you can’t really ignore them. And then there’s Riley, who in his critical third year came out after what was essentially a multi-week layoff and absolutely played his butt off, making critical stops and looking better than he has at any point in the last two years. Sure, you can only take so much from preseason, but those guys look great, and we already know that Debo, Campbell, and Oluokun is one of the league’s more promising trios.
They might just mess around and put a quality defense on the field this year.