Heading into the third exhibition game, the camp battles are heating up for the Falcons.
“Lots to hit on in terms of evaluations still,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “These are where roles start to get formed and that would be the case over the next three weeks.”
The Falcons host the Jets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With the Falcons playing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game this year, Quinn spaced the schedule out to give players more time off. But now, with just three games left, the coaching staff wants to see some players step forward.
“We just want to make sure that our coverage team gets as (many) chances as we get and that’s kickoffs and punts,” Quinn said. “Last week on our punt return game, we didn’t get a lot of looks at it, so I’m hopeful we get some chances to get some returns. To only have one return, you can imagine how valuable that was.
“Hopefully, we can play well enough to force a few punts to give our returners a chance to light up.”
Here are five camp battles to watch against the Jets:
1. Left guard, right tackle competition: It doesn’t look like the Falcons are set to start five first-round picks along the offensive line.
James Carpenter, who’s out with a hip flexor, has lost ground to Jamon Brown at left guard. Also, first-round pick Kaleb McGary is out with a heart ablation procedure. Ty Sambrailo is looking like the season-opening starter at right tackle.
Carpenter continues to work off to the side with the training staff.
While Carpenter has been out, Brown has made a move after the two had been sharing the first-team reps in practice. He pulled outside and had a key block against the Dolphins in last week’s exhibition.
“Seeing big Jamon coming around the corner, I’m sure there would be very few people that would like to see that sight coming at you,” Quinn said. “It was good to see. I thought for his first time out with the team, there were definitely some strides made.”
2. Returner competition: Running back/wide receiver Marcus Green returned to practice from a hamstring injury Monday.
Green, a sixth-round draft pick out of Louisiana-Monroe, has not played since suffering a hamstring injury in the Hall of Fame game against the Broncos on Aug. 1. He’s a candidate to earn the kickoff and/or punt returner jobs, battling veteran returner Kenjon Barner and undrafted rookie Olamide Zaccheaus.
“I would say a long way to go is where I feel like we’re at,” Quinn said when asked about the returner competition. “It’ll be good to get Marcus hopefully back into that role. We’ll take another look at him.”
Barner, who suffered an injury on Monday, appears to be the leader in the clubhouse.
“He’s been very sure-handed in the returns,” Quinn said. “We’ve tracked every punt in practice from OTAs, mandatory minicamp, every training camp practice. Well, assistant special teams coach Bernie (Parmalee) has. This player has caught 150 punts.”
3. Defensive line rotational spots: The Falcons are looking for defensive linemen who can be a part of the rotation.
“Last week, I thought there were some examples, I saw (Jacob Tuioti-Mariner) making some plays,” Quinn said. “I felt Austin (Larkin) made some plays.”
Quinn plans to look at more of the front-line players against the Jets.
“This week you’ll see more of a rotation of players,” Quinn said. “I’ve always felt for a long time that you’re always at your best when you’re able to play a lot of defensive linemen. You can keep attacking. You can keep them going. ... We’ll flow through a lot of guys, Allen (Bailey) and Ty (Davison), the pass rushers, AC (Adrian Clayborn), Vic (Beasley) and Takk (McKinley). We’re excited to have a big mix of guys playing over the next couple of weeks.”
4. Running back committee: While Quinn was non-committal about Devonta Freeman playing against the Jets, the backups are competing fiercely behind him.
Brian Hill has had a strong camp and Barner made a big play against the Dolphins, but is injured. Ito Smith has been steady. Rookie Qadree Ollison had a nice 15-yard touchdown against the Dolphins.
“Q has a really good feel for the run game,” running backs coach David Brock said of Ollison. “A really good feel for the blocking and the patterns. He did a really nice job reading it. He made one guy miss. He ended up doing a really good job finishing the run.”
Ollison started out slow in training camp.
“He’s coming on,” Brock said. “He’s a young player. He’s got a lot to learn. There is certainly a lot of development that needs to continue. ... The sky is the limit. He just has to keep working.”
5. Backup safety spots. The Falcons started Sharrod Neasman at free safety and undrafted rookie Parker Baldwin at strong safety against the Dolphins. The Falcons are looking for backups for free safety Ricardo Allen and strong safety Keanu Neal.
“He’s got strength at the line of scrimmage, and we’re giving him lots of reps,” Quinn said of Baldwin. “To see, OK, is he somebody that we could develop?”
Neal was one of the healthy players held out last week at Miami.
“Sometimes you’ve got to find that out, and fortunately for us, we’re finding out that,” Quinn said. “We’re getting (Baldwin) reps in the game and with Keke (Neal) not playing in the first couple, he got a lot. He might not get as many moving forward, but you do like to see what you could have. I think there’s a lot to develop there.”
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