We’re nearly to our first preseason game, and the Falcons are plugging away at practice. This was the final one before Friday night’s game, however, so there’s plenty to cover about how things are going and what we might see in game action.
Notes are brought to you by Mike Rothstein at ESPN, Tori McElhaney at The Athletic, D. Orlando Ledbetter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other intrepid reports at Flowery Branch, so give them a thank you next time you run into them online or in the real world.
Willie Beavers, left tackle
When the Falcons signed Willie Beavers, the extent of my reaction was basically “heh, Willie Beavers.” I knew his stint with Minnesota was not particularly inspiring, per Vikings writers I follow, so my expectations for him were not super high.
Since then, though, Beavers has evidently done enough to push himself into the conversation for a roster spot, perhaps even in a swing tackle role. This was the first day he ceded some first team work to Jalen Mayfield in a bit at right tackle, but Arthur Smith also made it clear Beavers would be getting some time at left tackle in the first preseason game. If he can credibly play both tackle spots—and game action will certainly help us give a better idea of that—he’s in good shape on his roster journey with Matt Gono out for an indeterminate amount of time.
Arthur Smith said you can expect to see reps on Friday with Willie Beavers at LT and Jalen Mayfield at RT. Beavers looking more and more like he's taken on the role of Matt Gono as swing tackle, with Gono out.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) August 11, 2021
Kaleb McGary and Jason Spriggs are working their way back onto the field and will likely take on a bigger slice of the practice reps next week, and my expectation is that McGary will seize the right tackle job when he’s ready. Spriggs has experience playing multiple positions along the line and Mayfield has gotten at least some time at both right tackle and left guard, so the Falcons could have a versatile reserve group headlined by Beavers so long as he impresses. That’s an incredible rise for a player I don’t think many of us had sniffing a roster spot a couple weeks back.
Qadree Ollison limited for Friday?
I don’t know if we’ll get any sort of real update from the team about this, but as Ledbetter noticed, Ollison is still in the yellow limited contact jersey at practice and has been all week.
If Ollison can’t go Friday, it helps explain why the Falcons signed D’Onta Foreman, and should give the likes of Foreman and rookies Caleb Huntley and Javian Hawkins more burn against Tennessee. I think Ollison has a strong chance to snag a roster spot in this running back group, but obviously missing a preseason game gives the team’s other options a chance to show out. Stay tuned for updates ahead of the game.
Backup quarterback competition rolls on, sort of
In her latest writeup, McElhaney notes that Arthur Smith is trying hard to avoid over-evaluating based on a handful of plays and is trying to get a fuller picture of the players on this roster.
A guy can flash one day but falter the next. For Smith, he’s keen on creating evaluations not on one moment, but a collection of them. It’s unfair, he said, to zero in too much on a mistake here or a big play there. That’s why he’s gone on the record so many times over the course of camp already to bring everyone’s perspective back to a realist’s level. Oh, there were a few more tipped passes and interceptions? Don’t read too much into that, Smith may say, it’s not what it seems because he’s putting more on the quarterbacks’ shoulders to see what sticks and what doesn’t.
That’s at least somewhat reassuring, because the quarterback play in training camp certainly hasn’t been. As Rothstein notes in his...notes...Feleipe Franks threw three picks at practice today and A.J. McCarron added another one. Neither quarterback has been drawing rave reviews for their play at camp, and while it’d be unfair to write either one off based on that, this wasn’t a competition I was particularly jazzed about to begin with. Game action is going to be really important for Franks in particular, and he should get at least a half to prove himself on Friday night.
I’d love to see both guys with strong showings over the next three weeks of preseason to help put my mind at ease a bit, or we’re going to exit the summer with fans itchy to explore the free agency market and see who else might be out there.
Dante Fowler back with the first team
As Rothstein notes, Fowler earned back some first team reps today. I don’t think we’ll see much of him in Friday’s preseason game—and we might not see him at all—but it’s little surprise that he’s already practicing with the starters because he’s going to be a starter. The Falcons want to stress competition and should, but the reality is that Fowler is their most pedigreed pass rushing threat at the outside linebacker spot by a country mile, and he’ll be a prominent (and hopefully productive) piece of the puzzle there.
Rothstein also noted that the five man group today looks like Fowler, Steven Means, Brandon Copeland, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and rookie Ade Ogundeji. If that holds, the Falcons will be hoping the remaining four guys can provide solid play and that at least one of them breaks out a bit, with Tuitoi-Mariner and Ogundeji seeming like the strongest candidates for something resembling that. It’s still a group I’d be eager to add to if I was Atlanta’s front office.
T.J. Green’s on the rise, too
Jaylinn Hawkins has had a strong camp, which is a good sign for the second-year safety. With Duron Harmon and Erik Harris on one-year deals, a strong 2021 from Hawkins could push him into a starting role in 2022, and we’re rooting for him to get there.
With Hawkins probably having a roster spot at safety sewn up, the Falcons have been working T.J. Green at cornerback quite a bit this past week, as Rothstein notes. An experienced safety, Green offering some versatility as the final, veteran defensive back on the roster would probably be a boon for Atlanta and certainly would be great for Green, who has been hanging around on the roster for a while now without a clear path to a role. Atlanta championed versatility early on after the additions of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith, and if Green can fill two roles as one player, it’ll help the Falcons construct this roster. Keep an eye on him in Friday’s game.