The final preseason game, against all odds, was the most fun preseason game we’ve yet endured. The Falcons came out swinging, played pretty well with their reserves on both offense and defense, and won their first preseason game in many, many moons. It was the kind of game that got you in the right frame of mind for the regular season, even if few of the players are likely to be the same.
It was a terrific night for Danny Etling, by and large, and he’s probably headed for a practice squad spot. Qadree Ollison could not have done more to convince the Falcons to carry him and Brian Hill. Kaleb McGary pushed hard for a starting job. Defensively, Jayson Stanley was stellar and Deadrin Senat and John Cominsky both pushed hard for roles, and frankly the entire defense held up well against a shaky group of Jaguars backups. If you were looking for signs that this team’s depth will be better in 2019, you got a glimpse.
Much has already been decided. The Falcons had staff parked back at Flowery Branch during this game in preparation for the roster cuts to come, as they always do, and there were only a small handful of spots truly up for grabs. But it was worthwhile to see the team’s depth playing well and playing hard for a role on the roster, and we’ll hope that whatever configuration emerges in the days to come is as strong as humanly possible. This team, one prays, is going places in 2019.
For what it’s worth, here’s our recap, with our customary players worth calling out.
- Kaleb McGary looked very, very comfortable in his first game action, throwing dudes around and providing a huge block on Qadree Ollison’s first quarter touchdown run and getting Tony Brooks-James free on the team’s second TD. There’s no guarantee he’ll start Week 1, but if the Falcons think he’s ready he appears on track to do so and thrive.
- Danny Etling heated up in a major way after starting the game looking uncertain and timid. He started to scramble—something he does extremely well—and found a rhythm in the passing game, completing some pretty balls to the likes of Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus. He has no real competition for a practice squad QB spot, but he earned it anyways with last night’s performance.
- Speaking of Ollison, he threw a nice block as a fullback and ran for a nine yard touchdown on the same drive, and throughout the first half he was running hard, picking up chunk yardage, and blocking when he wasn’t. It’s not hard to see why the Falcons like a back who values blocking and offers a nice combination of size and speed. The only question is whether he’s done enough to push past Brian Hill, and the answer to that (given that Hill didn’t play) is probably no.
- The Falcons are loaded with backs already, but what to do with Tony Brooks-James? He’s done nothing but play well this summer, and this game against the Jaguars was a tour de force that saw him rip off huge gain after huge gain, culminating in a 52 yard touchdown scamper where he looked like human electricity. If he can’t stick as a member of this practice squad, there are teams starved for depth that ought to be looking hard at him.
- Jacob Tuioti-Mariner with a sack in this one, and it’s unfortunate that the defensive line is so crowded because he’s looked much better than a year ago after spending 2018 on the practice squad. Perhaps one more year will give him his chance to crack the rotation.
- I don’t know who the final guy on the defensive line will be, but if you’re arguing purely on who performed the best throughout the summer, it has to be Austin Larkin. He made multiple key stops in this one and has had few bad plays along the way, and the Falcons could probably use another capable defensive end. I’m hoping he lands a spot.
- Jermaine Grace should have had a roster spot sewn up, but just in case there was any doubt, he picked off Gardner Minshew and returned it for a touchdown in this one. I count it even if it was called back.
He simply has been one of the team’s best reserve defenders all summer long and is easily one of the five best linebackers this team can trot out there on Sunday. He’s in.
- Jayson Stanley is a converted wide receiver with the requisite size and speed to be interesting for Dan Quinn, and this week served as the kind of strong performance that will allow DQ to feel good about stashing him on the practice squad. Don’t be surprised if he’s there come Sunday afternoon.
- Jordan Miller has had his moments this summer and is a roster lock, but he did not enjoy his best drive against the Jaguars to open things up, committing a pass interference penalty and getting beat soundly by a Jags’ receiver who thankfully dropped the ball. He’s not going to get a ton of playing time this year if all goes well, but he’s got a ton of promise, so this is more of a minor knock on him than something I’m seriously concerned about.
- The kicking performances last night likely didn’t matter at all, because Matt Bryant is on his way back. But Giorgio Tavecchio missing a third kick in three games wide left, even if it was a 53 yarder, certainly sealed his fate. Bryant is coming back and taking this job, and the only intrigue left concerns whether the Falcons will carry a guy on the practice squad as insurance. We’ll hope Italian Ice lands on his feet elsewhere.
Blair Walsh, meanwhile, drilled his first opportunity but had his second one blocked after John Wetzel and Adam Gettis got absolutely sown into the earth itself. Walsh would be an option for nominal second kicker if he had any practice squad eligibility, but because he does not he’ll be hoping to latch on elsewhere.
- Penalties are just part of the fabric of this football team. It’d almost be better if Dan Quinn stopped addressing them, because we know they’re not miraculously going to get better with the way things are proceeding now. The positive note is that it’s only preseason, but the number of penalties has been ungodly.
- As always, I like to end this by noting that there’s not much to celebrate here besides some better-than-expected football. By Saturday afternoon, 37 insanely hard-working men will be out of jobs, and not all of them or even a majority of them will latch on with another football team. They’ll be left to navigate that reality in the weeks, months, and years to come, and it won’t necessarily be easy for any of them to stop doing the thing they’ve been best at since they were quite young. I sincerely wish every current Falcon who doesn’t make the roster well, especially in a year where almost no one played abysmally.
Qadree Ollison, who did a lot and had fun doing it, and on a night where Brian Hill was parked and thus Ollison was clearly fighting for his job. Respect.
The Falcons are loaded up with running backs to the extent that had they not made the Qadree Ollison pick, they could still justify keeping five guys. Now Tony Brooks-James will be headed to the practice squad or another team, but this Falcons team looks like it’ll have much stronger depth at RB and a handful of other key positions, at the very least.
Real, honest-to-goodness regular season football. The Falcons start the season with a difficult matchup against a Vikings team with a ton of talent but the usual questions at kicker. Visit Daily Norseman for a lot more.