The Falcons welcomed back Kaleb McGary Monday and Dante Fowler late last week, which is extremely welcome given that both figure to be major pieces of the puzzle for Atlanta in 2021. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to see either one against the Titans this Friday, and Arthur Smith suggested today that McGary won’t suit up for the first preseason game.
That makes sense given that McGary is just coming back. Certainly the longer the team takes to ease him in, the more questions you can fairly ask about his status as the presumptive starting right tackle, but I’m still fully expecting him to be out there Week 1 in that exact role. In his absence, we’ll likely see a lot of Jalen Mayfield and Willie Beavers at right tackle against the Titans, and at this point it’s fair to wonder if Mayfield is going to transition back to the left guard position we all thought he’d be at earlier this summer. Unless Mayfield knocks everyone’s socks off and McGary’s return is slower-paced than expected, at this point I’m going to pencil him in as the reserve right tackle, with left guard potentially coming down to Josh Andrews, Drew Dalman and the team’s many depth options there.
Arthur Smith said he doesn't expect Kaleb McGary to play on Friday night against Tennessee. The Falcons will ease him back in somewhat after coming off PUP.— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) August 9, 2021
In addition to McGary being eased back in, we know that Dante Fowler is early in his return after a stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list to start training camp. Smith mentioned that fullback Keith Smith, cornerback Kendall Sheffield and wide receiver Austin Trammell are all out, with no specific timelines for return beyond the fact that Smith will return more quickly than Sheffield. That lines up for John Raine to get some burn at fullback on Friday, while those competing for reserve roles at receiver and corner not named Trammell and Sheffield will gain some additional snaps too.
We’ll get more updates as the week wears on, but for now I’m going to guess we won’t see McGary, Keith Smith or Kendall Sheffield Friday, with Fowler a bit more up in the air and likely only playing a handful of snaps even if he’s in the game. McGary’s status is the item I’m most interested in monitoring, because how the team handles his return may determine the picture at right tackle heading into Week 1.