Falcons kicker Giorgio Tavecchio misses a field goal attempt against the New York Jets during the second half. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

5 things to watch in the Falcons’ final exhibition game

Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who will not play most of the starters, conceded that the majority of the 53-man roster is set heading into the game against the Jaguars at 7 p.m. Thursday at TIAA Bank Field. 

Still, Quinn reflected back to his first year in the NFL on Steve Mariucci’s staff with the 49ers in 2001. 

“Every year since then, I’ve had great regard for this game because I know it’s one last final push to say ‘I belong,’” Quinn said. “It’s one final push to say if not here, then somewhere else. For all of these guys that are going for it, I hold them in high regard.”

Here are five things to watch against the Jaguars:

1. The cuts are coming: Most of the players on the field will be released by the 4 p.m. Saturday deadline. Others will make the team and some will be re-signed to the practice squad. 

“I hold this game in high regard, especially for those guys at the end (of the roster),” Quinn said. “It’s not complicated on either side from a game-planning standpoint. That’s not the goal. The goal is (to get) another evaluation.”

The Falcons will focus on a couple of key spots, including kicker.  

“Not a lot (of open roster spots) because we’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Quinn said.

Quinn and the coaching staff still plan to keep an open mind. 

“There will be somebody who’ll return one for 100 yards or there’ll be an interception that’s made,” Quinn said. “Somebody is going to make their case to be on the practice squad or to be developmental. A good bit of the group has been established. That’s why around the league, there are so many inactives on this night.”

So, let the Practice Squad Bowl begin.

“This night is devoted to the newest guys, who are wanting to get another look at things,” Quinn said.

2. Kicking competition: Giorgio Tavecchio and Blair Walsh, who was signed on Sunday, are in a competition for the field goal kicking job. Also, Tavecchio has handled the kickoffs. 

Tavecchio has made 4 of 8 field goals this exhibition season with misses from 54, 52, 52 and 39 yards. It was the missed 39-yarder that sent the Falcons scrambling for some competition.

Tavecchio was basically given Matt Bryant’s job after the veteran was released in February. 

Walsh, who made 5 of 9 kicks in practice on Tuesday, was out of football in 2018. However, he was a Pro Bowl and All Pro kicker as a rookie in 2012. 

3. McGary to make his debut?: Rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary, who’s considered the preferred opening day starter, may make his NFL debut after recovering from a cardiac heart ablation procedure. 

The Falcons traded back into the first round to select McGary with the 31st overall pick. He became ill at practice on July 30 and had the procedure on July 31, a day before the exhibition season opener against the Broncos. 

After practice on Tuesday, Quinn said he planned to play McGary. He also made it clear that he still needed approval from the medical staff. McGary returned to full practice on Sunday, but the Falcons didn’t practice in pads last week. 

“He’s really worked hard to get back and get going,” Quinn said.

Before the procedure, McGary was receiving about 50 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense at right tackle, according to Quinn. He was competing against Ty Sambrailo for the starting position. With McGary and Sambrailo (shoulder injury) out for the last exhibition game, former undrafted rookie Matt Gono started at right tackle against the Redskins. 

4. Cooper making a secondary push: Defensive back Chris Cooper, who’s been playing admirably at nickel back, will get some nickel and free safety action.  

“I have been impressed by him with the versatility that he’s had,” Quinn said. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Cooper played 29 defensive snaps (48%) against the Redskins and made four tackles. 

“He’s been somebody that we’ve been encouraged by, for sure,” Quinn said. 

5. Hageman comeback over?: Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who’s been trying to make a comeback after being out of the league for two years, suffered a neck injury and likely won’t play. He didn’t appear to do enough to crack the roster. 

Before the neck injury, he missed time with a groin injury.

“It’s always hard because you can put all the work in and your attitude is right,” Quinn said. “Sometimes, the injuries are a factor in our game. It’s hard because his attitude has been terrific.”


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