The Falcons’ Plan D program will be on display when they face the Broncos at 8 p.m. Thursday night in the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
“We’re very excited to go and get a chance to visit the Hall,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It’s a huge opportunity and a huge advantage for both Denver and us to get a chance to play more of the younger players. Why not take advantage of that?”
To combat the reduction in padded practices and time that coaches can spend with the players, the Falcons started a developmental program and dubbed it Plan D.
As part of the program, several players stay after practice and get special developmental attention from the coaching staff and veteran players.
With most of the veterans sitting out the game, the Plan D players and the 23 rookies – drafted and undrafted – will get most of the action against the Broncos.
Here are five things to watch in the exhibition opener:
1. How has Benkert progressed. The Falcons have invested a hefty $60,000 signing bonus and a year of development into quarterback Kurt Benkert.
He will lead a group of Plan D players from the practice squad that will get a long look from the Falcons.
“What does it look like now a whole year later,” Quinn asked. “If you went back to their last (exhibition) season game, that was the last game they played last August at some point. ‘Okay, (has) that player really improved from last preseason.’ ... I hope he has. If he hasn’t, he’s no longer part of the development program.”
Wide receiver Christian Blake and Devin Gray were on the practice squad last season.
Other Plan D players to watch include tight end Jaeden Graham, tight end Alex Graham, safety Ryan Neal and defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.
“Any of those guys, we’ve had some special coaching for them that we’re looking forward to them showing (us they can play),” Quinn said.
2. Young running backs. Brian Hill, rookie Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James will get a lot of action as Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith are not expected to play.
“We’ve seen good things so far from Brian (Hill) in a limited fashion,” Quinn said. “We’ve seen good things so far from Ollison. We’ve seen good things so far from TBJ.”
Quinn has said the Falcons are leaning toward using a committee to play behind Freeman.
“That group, we’ve got a healthy group there,” Quinn said.
3. Returner job is open. The Falcons already know what Kenjon Barner can do after six seasons in the NFL. They are trying to replace Justin Hardy as the punt returner and Marvin Hall as the kickoff returner.
The have high hopes for returner Marcus Green, who was drafted out of Louisiana-Monroe in the sixth round.
“I’m anxious to see some return games to go and see Marcus into that space,” Quinn said. “[Olamide Zaccheaus], it will give him some looks at that (position).”
Zaccheaus is a undrafted rookie from Virginia, who’s off to a strong start in training camp.
4. Stanley on special teams. Former Georgia wide receiver Jayson Stanley is making a transition to cornerback, but the Falcons want to see him on special teams.
“The position switch was based on the size and length,” Quinn said. “When you see him, this guy has 33 (inch arm lengths) and is 6-feet, 1-inch (tall). Those are some of the traits and attributes that you like to see at the corner.”
Stanley’s blocking for returner Mecole Hardman last season at Georgia, jumped out on film for the Falcons.
“He had a physical nature to him,” Quinn said. “So, through the career not having a big production on offense, but having a chance to be a good tackler.”
The Falcons ponder the notion of Stanley helping them on special teams while converting him to a big cornerback.
“We were real clear (about) that with him,” Quinn said. “The first order of business is special teams. We’re not going to have you go to meetings with the punters, but you have to make sure that is your way here.”
5. Backup tackles. With the news of rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary undergoing a heart procedure that could cause him to miss half of the season, Ty Sambrailo will likely open the season as the starting right tackle.
Now, the Falcons must find a backup tackle, who can swing between both sides.
The remaining tackles on the roster include Matt Gono, Dieugot Joseph and Jaelin Robinson.
When the Falcons signed linebackers Stephone Anthony and Richie Brown on Friday, they released tackle Lanard Bonner.
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