5 things to look for in Falcons’ exhibition opener

The Falcons’ notoriously late-arriving fans better be on time if they want a glimpse of quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones in the exhibition opener against Washington at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Georgia Dome.

The first-team offense is not expected play much.

Here are five things to look for:

1. Parade of rookies. Expect to see plenty of rookies — drafted and undrafted — who will all be making their NFL debuts.

“It’s really devoted toward them as they are getting their careers started in their first (exhibition) season game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It’s an important one for all, but especially for them and we’re really devout that night to them to see what they can do.”

Instead of running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, expect to see much more of undrafted rookie Brandon Wilds and practice squad member Gus Johnson.

2. The quarterback rotation. Ryan is not expected to play very long. Matt Schaub, Sean Renfree and/or Matt Simms are all expected to get some work.

“We do have a plan for early only with Matt and then we’ll kind of take it from there with the guys,” Quinn said. “We are looking forward to (getting) an evaluation on everybody.”

3. The Upshaw project. Falcons defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw played strongside linebacker for Baltimore the past four years. Great things had been projected for him after a fine career at Alabama where he played on two national championship teams, made the second-team AP All-American team and was voted the most valuable defensive player of the 2012 BCS national championship game.

But after the Ravens selected him in the second-round (35th overall), they decided not to re-sign him after his four-year, $5.2 million contract was up. He started 51 games in Baltimore and played in 64.

The Falcons signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million make-good contract and converted him to defensive tackle, where he’s currently listed as No. 2 behind Grady Jarrett.

“The Falcons are giving me a chance,” Upshaw said. “As you know, with the one-year deal I’m here to try to make the best of it.”

Upshaw has embraced his move to tackle.

“It’s something new, but at the end of the day, I’m down for the challenge,” Upshaw said. “I appreciate Coach Quinn bringing me in and not just limiting me to one position. He’s trying to allow me to make plays in camp so that I can get on the field.”

4. The speedy Reynolds. While rookies Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell have dominated the spotlight at the linebacker position during training camp, veteran LaRoy Reynolds, who was signed in free agency, has quietly gone about his business.

Reynolds, who played for the Bears last season, was signed for $675,000. He is also a speedy special teams player.

“I was just grateful to have another opportunity to do something,” Reynolds said. “After you get released, you are grateful for the opportunities that you do get. I was just excited to get here and be a part of the good group of guys.”

5. Tight end battle. With Jacob Tamme and rookie Austin Hooper apparent locks to make the roster, the main battle is for the third spot. Veteran Levine Toilolo is listed as the third tight end, followed by D.J. Tialavea, Joshua Perkins and former Georgia standout Arthur Lynch.

“Tight end is another spot that we just felt that there are some guys really battling and going for it,” Quinn said. “Honestly, that’s what I want, to keep getting that competition strong, so that the roster cuts are really tough.”