Falcons running back Devonta Freeman gets in some work before the team plays the New York Jets in a NFL preseason football game on Thursday, August 15, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Five things to watch in the Falcons’ dress-rehearsal exhibition

Freeman set to get some more action 

The offensive line allowed three sacks of quarterback Matt Ryan and overall gave up five sacks and 14 quarterback hits against the blitz-happy New York Jets last week.

The offensive line will take center stage when the Falcons (0-3) face a stout Washington (0-2) defensive front at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Here are five things to watch in the dress rehearsal exhibition game: 

1. Offensive line: Three spots are set with left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack in good standing. 

Understandably, rookie Chris Lindstrom has struggled in pass protection as he makes the jump from the college ranks. He’s given up five pressures in 74 snaps. The Falcons are not worried about his performance. 

“I think he has a rare ability to recover quickly,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “If he sees something, he can come back and even fix it during the play. ... He’s got a rare mindset of getting better and improving.”

Veterans James Carpenter and Jamon Brown are competing for the starting left-guard spot. Carpenter, a former first-round pick who’s played 103 NFL games and made 97 starts, will get his first exhibition season action after recovering from a hip flexor injury. 

“What I’ve seen from him so far in pass protection has been really strong and square,” Quinn said. “I’d like to see more of that from Carp into the game action. Fortunately, they’ve got some good guys inside to match up against.”

Washington’s defensive front is led by tackle Da’Ron Payne and four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan. 

“(Offensive) line to (defensive) line-wise is exactly what we need,” Quinn said. “I think that’s one of the strengths of their team, so I’m looking forward to those matchups.”

Brown will get some action, too. “We’ll work both guys in quite a bit,” Quinn said. 

With first-round pick Kaleb McGary (heart procedure) and Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) out, second-year player Matt Gono is slated to start at right tackle. 

“Gono has done a great job for us as a guy that has come in and just has consistently gotten better over his time here,” Ryan said. “He’s worked extremely hard at it.”

Gono has played some right and left tackle and some guard this offseason. He was signed as an undrafted free agent after dominating at Division III Wesley in Delaware. He made the 53-man roster, but did not play in any games last season. 

“He’s a quiet guy,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t say a whole lot. He just goes about his business the right way. He’s improved a great deal. It would be a good opportunity for him to get some reps and get some experience.”

2. Freeman to get some action: Running back Devonta Freeman, who had one carry for 2 yards over six snaps against the Jets, will get some action against Washington. He’s coming back from knee, groin and sports hernia surgery that caused to miss 14 of 16 games last season. 

“I do (have time allotted for Freeman),” Quinn said. “Each of the guys, it’s individual. For him, it’s getting some of the game action. Even if it’s a small amount, it’s worth it.”

3. Field goal kicker. The Falcons continue to express belief in field goal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who’s missed three field-goal attempts in the exhibition season. 

He had a good day of practice Monday, according to Quinn. Tavecchio didn’t kick during the open portion of practice. 

“We hit a number of different ones from short to long,” Quinn said. “That’s always part of it at that position. The mental toughness side is as important as the physical talent. That’s why I wanted to see him come back and really rip it at practice. It was good to see that.”

Tavecchio is attempting to replace the dependable Matt Bryant. 

“We’ve got belief in him,” Quinn said. “He’s got belief in himself. You don’t like to miss them whether they are 30-yarders or 50-yarders because he’s a competitor and has the leg strength to take the long shots.”

4. Returner battle to go down to the wire: Kenjon Barner, Marcus Green and Olamide Zacchaeus will continue to battle for the punt returner and kickoff returner jobs.

“I’m hoping for the opportunities,” Quinn said. “So far, we haven’t seen a lot. We’ve gotten a lot of work out here, but we haven’t had a lot in-game. Especially on the punt side. That’s the one where if you get your moments to go, you really want to max them out.”

Green had three punt returns for 18 yards and two kickoff returns for 39 yards against the Jets. 

“We are still looking at Marcus and O.Z., there is bigger body of work for Kenjon in the NFL especially,” Quinn said. “For those two guys, Marcus and Oz, it’s like ‘hey man, let’s get them out there and under it and see where they go.’ That’s really what we are trying to dig into in these next two performances, especially with those two.”

5. Defensive-line experimentation is almost over. The Falcons have used an assortment of combinations along the defensive line. 

“You know how training camp is, we’ve tried a bunch of them,” defensive line coach Jess Simpson said. “We are still experimenting with them. We are trying all of them. It’s been fun watching the guys.”

Simpson contended that they’ve found things out during the three previous games. 

“We’ve had a good list of stuff (to focus and improve on), and it’s fun to see them come out here and address it,” Simpson said.

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