Falcons look to snap 9-game exhibition losing streak

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan discusses his outlook for the team as he prepares to enter his 11th season in the league during his press conference Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch.

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan discusses his outlook for the team as he prepares to enter his 11th season in the league during his press conference Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is set to make his exhibition season debut.

Although Ryan likely won’t play very much, the Falcons will have a good chance to snap their nine-game exhibition season losing streak when they face rookie coach Brian Flores and the rebuilding Miami Dolphins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The Falcons last won an exhibition game Sept. 1, 2016, against Jacksonville, but the Dolphins were picked by oddsmakers to finish with the worst record in the NFL.

“We’ll probably have about 8-10 guys who won’t go that we’ll hold (out) in this game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “But the majority of the group are ready to go and play, and we’re excited to see those guys do that.”

Ryan is among the group of players who will play.

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

Here are fives things to watch in the Falcons’ second exhibition game:

1. Backfield in motion: In the competition to scoop up Tevin Coleman's snaps, third-year running back Brian Hill is making his case for a piece of the action. Second-year running back Ito Smith has to feel a little pressure, while Kenjon Barner also has impressed the coaching staff. Tony Brooks-Jones has interesting speed.

Hill rushed 11 times for 57 yards against the Broncos and caught a touchdown pass.

Smith had three carries for 6 yards.  Rookie Qadree Ollison had six carries for 2 yards. Barner had two carries for a yard.

“I think in our mind, we always keep one or two that are special teams first,” Quinn said. “When you think in that way, that could be at any position. In the past, we’ve had returners that mostly did that.

“We’ve had cover guys that mostly did that. Some of them come from (the running back) position.”

Last season, receivers Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall handled the returning duties.

“I’m always having good conversations with (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) about that,” Quinn said. “As we go into the next month, then we ask, who would be developmental? ... It’ll be a big month for a lot of players.”

2. Quarterback corner: Ryan likely will play in the first series, as he did in the exhibition openers 2018 and 2017.

Last year, Ryan played one series against the Jets. After a penalty-riddled three-and-out, Matt Bosher came on to punt.

In 2017, after a 39-yard punt return by Andre Roberts, Ryan played one series. The offense scored on a 15-yard pass to Devonta Freeman. The drive covered 36 yards over five plays before Ryan retired for the evening.

He’ll be followed by Matt Schaub and Matt Simms, who was signed to replace Kurt Benkert (toe injury).

After a promising start, Benkert was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. He announced that he had a successful surgery Wednesday.

The Falcons had high hopes for Benkert, who received a $60,000 signing bonus in 2018 after he wasn’t drafted. 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 loss to the Broncos.

3. Sambrailo under microscope: With rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary out after his heart ablation procedure, Ty Sambrailo appears set to open the season as the starter. The Falcons are holding out hope that McGary can beat the 6-8 week projected return to action.

Before McGary became ill at practice July 30, Sambrailo was running with the first while McGary was picking up ground.

In addition to Sambrailo, the spotlight will be on Matt Gono, who’s the leading candidate to open the season as the backup swing tackle. After a year of seasoning, the former NCAA Division III player from Wesley is showing signs of marked improvement.

“Matt Gono is one that’s jumped out to me,” Quinn said. “We’ve given him a lot of reps. He’s played both tackle and guard. To see the development that he’s made in a year, he’s really somebody that’s coming on and doing good things.”

McGary was out walking at practice 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.”

4. Returner battle: Barner is the leader for the kickoff-return and punt-return jobs after Marcus Green and Olamide Zaccheaus muffed punts against the Broncos.

5. Players to watch: Second-year defensive tackle Deadrin Senat needs to start making some noise in the opposition's backfield. He had three tackles, a tackle for a loss against the Broncos.

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