Seven things to watch in Falcons’ final exhibition game



Reserves to battle for final roster spots and practice squad

Several reserves will attempt to land the final spots on the 53-man roster or try to earn an invite back to the 10-member practice squad when the Falcons (0-3) host the Dolphins (0-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons’ starters are slated to sit out the game and will start getting ready for their regular-season opener at practice on Saturday.

“We want to make sure that we have real opportunities to evaluate the guys on the things that we’re looking for,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Some of the things maybe we have to design some play calls, so we can put a player into a spot.”

Here are five things watch in the final exhibition game:

1. Oliver watch: Falcons second-round draft pick Isaiah Oliver will get plenty of action. He was beaten badly in each of the past two games and will continue to work on his technique.

He’ll also get some action returning punts.

2. Schweitzer at center: The Falcons must get Wes Schweitzer ready to play the emergency center position. The team normally has seven lineman active on game day, one tackle and one interior player, who must be ready to play either guard position or center.

3. Depth along the defensive line: The Falcons will look into adding some depth to the defensive line.

Justin Zimmer, Garrison Smith and Jon Cunningham will see plenty of action.

“I like to rotate the guys through,” Quinn said. “More than anything, what I have been encouraged by is their ability to communicate on the field together. Adding a couple of new players into that has been good.”

The Falcons defensive end group of Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby appears set.

With Grady Jarrett, Deadrin Senat, Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford, the defensive tackle rotation looks strong.

“So how do we bring in (McLain) and how do we bring in Senat and really Jack to make sure the communication at defensive tackle is on point,” Quinn said. “The guy that’s really done a nice job of that is Grady. He’s kind of the one who sets the tempo. Sets the course of action.”

The depth is the issue.

“When you look across the board and you put their tape on you’re going to say, man, this is a group that really (plays hard),” Quinn said. “I like that part of the group so far. As far as getting into the game plan and the flow of things, we haven’t done a lot yet. I think that will grow as the season grows.”

4. The fullback battle: Ricky Ortiz and Jalston Fowler are battling for the starting fullback position.

“I would say it’s been a good addition with (Jalston) Fowler,” Quinn said. “He’s come in and he’s really said, ‘I want a part of this situation’ and I really respect that from him.”

Fowler is going to play on special teams and be evaluated by coordinator Keith Armstrong.

“Ortiz has done a nice job so far on teams and Fowler will certainly have his chance to get some of that this weekend as well,” Quinn said. “Both of them can really get out of their stance and lead block, so that’s a good thing.

“So the second part of their evaluation is going to be on special teams. Fowler came in with the right mindset and attitude to say, ‘Hey I’ve got something to offer here.’”

5. Quarterback shuffle: Kurt Benkert and Grayson Graham are expected to get most of the action.

Benkert has played in all three exhibition games and has completed 18 of 39 passes (46.2 completion percentage) for 244 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Graham played in the first two games and completed 4 of 13 passes for 52 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Benkert has a 45.2 passer rating and Graham has a 50.8 passer rating.

6.  Kicking game: The Falcons signed place-kicker Giorgio Tavecchio on Monday.

He will kick and David Marvin will handle the punting duties as Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher will get the night off.

Tavecchio was signed on the Raiders active roster last season following the injury to Sebastian Janikowski. He appeared in all 16 games and converted on 16 of his 21 field goal attempts, including making 3 of 4 from 50-plus yards.

“This is something that we had planned for a week or two,” Quinn said.

Tavecchio, from Italy, started his NFL career with the 49ers in 2012 after a four-year collegiate career at California. He has also spent time with the Packers and Lions.

7. Practice squad: Wide receivers Devin Gray and Dontez Byrd have flashed in games and are strong candidates for the 10-person practice squad. There is a lot of interest around the league in undrafted rookie tackle Matt Gono, who has a shot at the 53-man roster if can unseat veteran backup Austin Pasztor.

Quinn doesn’t believe making the cuts after the game will be a major challenge.

“As far as roster decisions, there are some things to work out here,” Quinn said. “There will be some competing for the practice squad, developmental and still battling to make the 53-man spot, the 51, 52, 53-man. The goal is to also if it’s not here, it’s somewhere. So those guys can put out tape, so they have those opportunities. That’s kind of the goal for me as a coach.”


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