FLOWERY BRANCH – After facing the Jaguars on Saturday in the final exhibition game, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith will have some difficult decisions to make.
Both in their second year, they wanted the team to have a competitive training camp with an eye toward moving forward in the post-Matt Ryan era.
The Falcons’ roster must be down to 53 players, from 80, at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“There are a lot of different roster mechanisms,” Smith said. “You saw the players that we added late. Other guys that we develop that we expect to help us at some point.”
The Falcons will attempt to continue to improve their roster throughout the season and use the 16-player practice squad.
“There is a lot of strategy that goes along with it,” Smith said. “Nobody’s 53 (is set). ... That’s not happening. It’s very fluid, and it’s good for the game. Developing players. We’ve got a lot of decisions, but ... nothing is set in stone.”
Here’s a look at each position group and the players’ chances of making the final roster (the number beside each position listing is the number on the Falcons’ 53-man roster for the season opener last year against the Eagles):
Marcus Mariota led the first-team offense for the entire offseason and is slated to start.
“It’s been awesome,” Mariota said. “For me, it’s really exciting. Not many guys get another chance like this. I’m just grateful for it.”
Rookie Desmond Ridder showed promise in the exhibition season, while Feleipe Franks spent most of the offseason working at tight end.
“I would say like a C-plus or a B-minus,” Ridder said of his exhibition-games grade heading into Saturday. “For myself, I strive for perfection, but in our quarterback room we don’t use the word perfect, but I try to come out here and do everything right.”
Locks (2): Mariota, Ridder
Bubble (1): Franks
RUNNING BACKS (4)
The Falcons plan to lean more heavily on their rushing attack, which explains why they essentially didn’t use Cordarrelle Patterson in the exhibition games.
“Hey man, whatever coach needs,” Patterson said. “I’m going to be the guy to go out there and do it, if it’s five reps, 30 reps or 40 reps. Whatever he needs in practice or in the games, I’m going to go out there and give it my all.”
Patterson had a career-high in carries (153) and pass targets (69) last season. The Falcons apparently didn’t want to put any exhibition game film out there for what their plan is for Patterson.
“I don’t think he’s hiding anything,” Patterson said. “Everybody (saw) what I did last year. So, he really can’t hide anything.”
Patterson feels that practice was enough to get him ready for the season.
“My biggest thing is just continue to work hard,” Patterson said. “This year we (have more) threats outside. We got Drake (London). We got (Bryan Edwards). OZ (Olamide Zaccheaus) is a baller doing his thing. Kyle (Pitts) and Marcus (Mariota). Just with those guys. We are ready. We are hungry.”
Damien Williams was added in free agency, and the Falcons drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round out of BYU.
Qadree Ollison had a strong exhibition season, and Caleb Huntley received the most carries.
Locks (3): Patterson, Williams, FB Keith Smith
Bubble (2): Ollison, Allgeier
Long shots (2): Huntley, FB John Raine
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Rookie wide receiver Drake London caught one pass for 24 yards in the exhibition opener and was held back for precautionary reasons after getting hit on his left knee.
The Falcons had to remake the wide receiver position after Russell Gage left for Tampa Bay in free agency and Calvin Ridley was suspended indefinitely for gambling.
In addition to drafting London, the Falcons traded for Edwards and re-signed Zaccheaus.
Veterans KhaDarel Hodge and Damiere Byrd also were signed.
Jared Bernhardt, a former lacrosse player, had a strong camp as an undrafted college free agent. He caught the game-winning touchdown against Detroit.
Cameron Batson, Stanley Berryhill and KeeSean Johnson round out the group.
Locks (4): London, Edwards, Zaccheaus and Hodge
Bubble (3): Byrd, Bernhardt, and Frank Darby
Long shots (3): Baston, Berryhill and Johnson
TIGHT ENDS (4)
Kyle Pitts has worked on his blocking, as he wants to become a well-rounded tight end.
He got loose in the exhibition season for a 52-yard gain against the Jets on Aug. 22 and will be the focal point of the passing attack. He also wants to be more of a weapon in the red zone and increase his touchdown output.
“His second training camp has been awesome,” Falcons tight end coach Justin Peelle said. “He is a lot more comfortable.”
Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt spent time with Smith in Tennessee.
The Falcons have developed Parker Hesse, a former defensive end in college.
John FitzPatrick was drafted, and Franks has worked hard at trying to make the conversion to tight end.
“They all done a really nice job with it,” Peelle said. “The group, as a whole, has worked extremely hard. They’ve gotten better.”
Locks (3): Pitts, Firkser and Hesse
Bubble (2): Pruitt, FitzPatrick
Long shots (1): Franks
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Right tackle Kaleb McGary didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up and came into camp motivated. Germain Ifedi, a former first-round pick, never mounted much of a challenge to McGary.
“You see a lot of energy from Kaleb this year,” Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. “You see him playing extremely well with his pad level. I think you see his movement. He’s moving extremely well this year.”
Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman battled all offseason for the center position.
Elijah Wilkinson appears to have beaten out Jalen Mayfield for the left guard spot.
Locks (6): Matthews, Lindstrom, McGary, Hennessy, Dalman and Wilkinson
Bubble (4): Jalen Mayfield, Rick Leonard, Leroy Watson and Justin Shaffer
Long shots (5): Ifedi, Ryan Neuzil, Colby Gossett, Jonotthan Harrison and Tyler Vrabel
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
Grady Jarrett is being counted on to lead this group, with second-year defensive end Taquon Graham winning the other end spot.
Anthony Rush is slated to start the season at nose tackle.
Marlon Davidson (knee surgery) could be headed for injured reserve.
Locks (4): Jarrett, Graham, Rush and Nick Thurman
Bubble (3): Davidson, Abdullah Anderson, Timothy Horne
Long shots (2): Derrick Tangelo and Darrion Daniels
The Falcons played the exhibition season with Ade Ogundeji, Rashaan Evans, MyKal Walker and Lorenzo Carter on the first-team defense.
The Falcons drafted Arnold Ebiketie (outside) and Troy Andersen (inside) in the second round and DeAngelo Malone (outside) in the third round.
Locks (8): OLB – Ogundeji, Carter, Ebiketie and Malone. ILB – Evans, Walker, Andersen, Deion Jones.
Bubble (3): OLB – Quinton Bell. ILB – Nick Kwiatkoski, Dorian Etheridge.
Long shots (2): OLB – Jordan Brailford. ILB – Nathan Landman.
Dee Alford, a former Canadian Football League all-star, was the talk of training camp.
His strong coverage and ability to tackle in space stood out. He may have won the starting nickel back position.
Veteran Casey Hayward was signed to pair outside with A.J. Terrell.
Isaiah Oliver is battling back from knee surgery and spent some time at safety.
Locks (5): Terrell, Hayward, Alford, Hall and Oliver
Bubble (1): Mike Ford
Long shots (2): Corey Ballentine and Matt Hankins
Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins are set to take over.
Dean Marlowe played when Hawkins had a left leg injury. Teez Tabor had an interception against the Jets.
Locks (2): Grant and Hawkins
Bubble (2): Marlowe and Erik Harris
Long shots (2): Tabor and Henry Black
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
About the only drama here is at long snapper.
Veteran Beau Brinkley is getting close to returning from a ruptured Achilles.
Locks (2): K – Younghoe Koo and P – Bradley Pinion.
Bubble (1): LS – Liam McCullough or Beau Brinkley (IR)
The Bow Tie Chronicles