Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) tosses a ball in the air during their NFL training camp football practice Thursday, July 25, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Photo: John Bazemore/AP
Photo: John Bazemore/AP

Cover 9@9: Falcons need to shake case of the exhibition season blues 

Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. Falcons need to shake exhibition season blues: Normally, you don’t put a bit of stock in these exhibition games.

You look for individual performances and how players, who are coming back from injuries perform during their cameo appearances.

But when you lose nine straight exhibition games and are trying to bounce back from a 7-9 season, the exhibition season starts to take on some significance. The Falcons (0-1) will face the Miami Dolphins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.  

The Falcons last won an exhibition game on Sept. 1, 2016, against Jacksonville. 

The Falcons had their exhibition opener against the Broncos slip away with 1:26 left on Thursday in Canton, Ohio. 

After dropping all of their exhibition games in 2017 and 2018, Falcons got off to slow starts.

In 2017, they posted a 3-1 record in the first quarter of the season on the way to a 10-6 mark and a wildcard playoff berth. However, they barely escaped in Chicago as they needed a goal line stand to prevail over Mike Glennon and the Bears. In the third game they needed a 10-second run-off to escape a loss to Detroit. The 3-1 start could have very well been a 1-3 start. They pummeled Green Bay in Week Two and lost to Buffalo in week four when their short-yardage offense failed them.

Last season, after dropping all four exhibition games, the Falcons started the season 1-3 on the way to an injury-plagued 7-9 campaign.

In 2016, the Falcons went 3-1 in the exhibition season. They went 3-1 in the first quarter of the season before going 11-5 and reaching Super Bowl LI.

In 2015, the Falcons went 2-2 and started the first quarter of the season 4-0 before collapsing and finishing 8-8. 

With a daunting schedule that starts with five teams — at Vikings, Eagles, at Colts, Titans and at Texans — the Falcons need to start fast. The Vikings finished 8-7-1 and Eagles, Colts, Titans and Texans all went to the playoffs last season. 

The Falcons need to perform better in the exhibition season heading into what promising to be a rugged start to the 2019 campaign.

2. Julio Jones’ mindset: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ foot injury was compared to the one he had going into the 2017 season by coach Dan Quinn on Sirius XM NFL radio.

In 2017, Jones went on to play in all 18 games and caught 106 passes for 1, 639 yards and four touchdowns. 

Jones will not play in the exhibition season.

“That’s the ultimate goal, to go into the season healthy,” Jones told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s really the main thing. You don’t want to go into the season with a nagging injury or anything like that, where it’s hindering you and your mind is somewhere else. I’m going into the season clear-minded, ready to play, ready to ball. I can help the team out.”

3. Julio the OC: Jones likes the Falcons’ offensive weaponry. 

“With the weapons we have on offense, we just need to line up and beat people,” Jones said. “We’re really talented all around the board. From the running backs, quarterbacks, to the line, to the wide receivers, tight ends, we can really just line up. Just find the best matchup and work them.

“We don’t have to trick anybody. You’re going to know where I’m at on the field, you’re going to know where Mo’s (Mohamed Sanu) at, you’re going to know where guys are at, you’ve just got to stop us.”

4. Benkert to IR: Quarterback Kurt Benkert, who suffered a major toe injury against the Broncos on Thursday, was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

The Falcons had high hopes for Benkert, who received a $60,000 signing bonus after going undrafted in 2018. He spent last season on the practice squad and the team wanted to see him play a lot this exhibition season. 

He went down in the fourth quarter in the 14-10 loss to the Broncos in Canton, Ohio.

The Falcons signed quarterback Matt Sims to replace Benkert. Also, the Falcons added offensive guard Tommy Doles, 23, a former three-year starter at Northwestern.

5. Carpenter out: Falcons potential starting left guard James Carpenter, who has a hip flexor injury, will not play against the Dolphins.

“Carp, we’ll hold him for this game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He’ll work hard and we’ll see where we go into next week. Nothing long-term for him, which is good news. We’ll see if he’s able to play into next week. We’ll take it kind of day by day with him.”

6. McGary walking at practice: Falcons rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary was out walking at practice on Tuesday. 

“Yep, you did (see him),” Quinn said. “It is good news. The doctors were pleased with the progress. As long as he keeps hitting the markers that will go, and it will keep being intermittent at different times, but they’re pleased with where he’s heading and where we go from here.”

7. Injury report: Jones (foot), Carpenter (hip flexor) and rookie Kaleb McGary (heart ablation procedure) are out for the Miami game.

Middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot) continued to work on the side during practice. 

Also injured are receiver Calvin Ridley (strained hamstring), defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman (groin), running back Marcus Green (hamstring) and linebacker Duke Riley (groin, hip flexor), left cornerback Desmond Trufant (back strain) and linebacker Foye Oluokun (oblique strain) are injured.

“It’s always a balance and something we’re looking at it every day,” Quinn said. “When they can get the right work, we’re going to do it. But when it’s the time not to, we’re not going to force the issue to where it could set them back longer, whether that’s a strain or just coming back.

“If you think you’re ready, let’s take a day or two to see if he’s really ready. Nothing to rush back into. We expect him to work really hard in the rehab process to return to play, but there’s nothing that’s going to be too quick.”

8. Trufant update: The Falcons will be cautious with Trufant. 

“He’s been out two days,” Quinn said. “He’s had it before. I’m hopeful we’ll get it turned. He was almost back to full today. We’ll get him back soon. It’s not a cause for concern. He’s dealt with it before when it gets tight. Like anything, if it gets inflamed, how quick can you get rid of this? It’s almost in the same time zone that it normally is.”

9. Depth chart: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is set to make his exhibition season debut against the Dolphins. 

Here’s the second official depth chart of the season (the team releasing it and that makes it official): 

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 83 Russell Gage, 15 Devin Gray, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 16 Shawn Bane, 19 Kahlil Lewis 
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono, 67 Dieugot Joseph
LG 77 James Carpenter, 68 Jamon Brown, 75 John Wetzel 
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 61 Chandler Miller 
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 72 Adam Gettis, 64 Sean Harlow, Tommy Doles 
RT 74 Ty Sambrailo, 76 Kaleb McGary, 65 Jaelin Robinson
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 85 Eric Saubert, 82 Logan Paulsen, 87 Jaeden Graham, 89 Alex Gray 
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 3 Marcus Green, 13 Christian Blake, 7 C.J. Worton
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 9 Matt Simms
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 23 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 32 Qadree Ollison, 46 Tony Brooks-James
FB 30 Ricky Ortiz 

DEFENSE

DE 98 Takkarist McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 62 Austin Larkin, 49 Tre’ Crawford 
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 92 Justin Zimmer 
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat, 90 Ra’Shede Hageman 
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 91 Chris Odom, 52 Yurik Bethune, 48 Durrant Miles 
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 42 Duke Riley, 69 Richie Brown 
LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Bruce Carter, 53 Jermaine Grace, 46 Del’Shawn Phillips, 61 Stephone Anthony 
CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 23 Jayson Stanley, 35 Hamp Cheevers 
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 27 Damontae Kazee, 28 Jordan Miller, 40 Ryan Neal, 39 Taveze Calhoun 
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman, 34 Chris Cooper, 32 Ronald Martin 
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 43 Parker Baldwin 

SPECIALISTS

K 4 Giorgio Tavecchio 
KO 5 Matt Bosher 
P 5 Matt Bosher 
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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