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Falcons prize familiarity for initial practice squad

Atlanta filled in 15 of their 16 spots, and there were a lot of familiar faces.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After a brutal preseason slate that saw the Falcons get stomped in all three games, it was fair to wonder whether Atlanta would prioritize the players they had all summer for their practice squad or try to scoop up players from other teams, especially given Terry Fontenot’s reputation for finding affordable additions. In the end, Atlanta did add one player off waivers and add one player cut by another team, but largely they stuck with the guys they had become familiar with over the course of training camp and preseason.

I don’t have a lot of complaints about that, even if it comes as a slight surprise to me that they didn’t fill out, say a quarter of the practice squad with outside options. The likes of Caleb Huntley, Ryan Neuzil and Dwayne Johnson Jr. impressed in preseason, and the Falcons clearly saw enough in practice and those shambles of games to want to keep more players around. Given the number of options presumably available to them—we don’t know how many players would’ve turned down a stint on the Atlanta practice squad, but I can’t imagine it was almost all of them—the choice to slot in 14 players that spent at least part of the summer with them feels purposeful. The Falcons are going to sink or swim, by and large, with the guys they’ve spent months evaluating.

In some cases, that was predictable, as it was for Huntley, tackle Willie Beavers, veteran back D’Onta Foreman, Neuzil and others. In other cases, it was a bit of a surprise, as it was for the likes of receiver Austin Trammell and linebacker George Obinna, who were released before the final round of cuts but still found their way back to the practice squad. In just one case, they went outside the organization, bringing in athletic outside linebacker Quinton Bell, who was previously with the Buccaneers and worked out for the Falcons under the previous regime back in 2019. In all cases, they are hoping to keep worthwhile developmental prospects and quality break-in-case-of-emergency options around for a team that feels like it’s a year or two away from enjoying depth anyone’s going to feel totally comfortable with. Preseason didn’t engender a ton of confidence in that outcome outside of a handful of guys—again, notably Huntley, Neuzil and Johnson—but the Falcons brass has more to lose if they’re wrong about this practice squad than you or I do. Especially because we probably lost our sanity a long time ago.

It’s worth remembering that none of this is set in stone—it would not be surprising to see Parker Hesse come off the reserve/COVID-19 list and displace David Wells on the practice squad, for example—but Atlanta’s faith in their own players and their own evaluation abilities is considerable. I’m not an objective soul when it comes to the Falcons, so I’m hoping that faith is rewarded.