5 things to watch in the Falcons’ road opener

The starters will play a little longer than the 10 snaps most play against the Titans.

“We’re kind of keeping it on a case-by-case (basis),” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

Here are five things to watch against the Jets:

1. Strong side linebacker: Brooks Reed, the Falcons major free agent pick up, returned to practice last week from a groin injury and is expected to play.

He was out since Aug. 3. Last week, middle linebacker Paul Worrilow and weakside linebacker Justin Durant created turnovers and Worrilow scored a touchdown.

If Reed, who signed a five-year $22 million deal with the Falcons, can get moving that would signal a strong revamped linebacker corps. He played four seasons with the Houston Texans.

Reed returned to practice on Monday and played with the first-team defense on Tuesday and Wednesday. He admitted to being a little rusty, but was anxious to get into a game because practice can’t simulate game-speed.

“I’m just trying to get back into things like reading my keys,” Reed said.

2. Running backs: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman returned to practice from suffering hamstring injuries on Aug. 5 and 6.

They did some drills on Monday and were sparingly sprinkled into the operation on Tuesday and Wednesday. They are not expected to play, but Quinn said it would be a “game-time” decision.

Also, Antone Smith suffered a hamstring injury against Tennessee and will not play.

Terron Ward, an undrafted rookie player from Oregon State, and Jerome Smith, will likely share the load as the Falcons will try to get the rushing attack unleashed.

Michael Ford and Evan Royster, who was signed on Sunday, are also on hand to help. The running backs had 30 carries for 69 yards against the Titans.

3. Offensive line: Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan is not worried the run game. He figures that the more time the line gets to work together, the sooner things will start clicking.

The unit of left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard James Stone, center Joe Hawley, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder are getting the bulk of the first-team snaps.

“We’re trying to develop our style of play with a tough mindset,” Morgan said. “That’s the number one thing. We are trying to do that as a team. That’s the message from the top.”

4. Pass rush. Veterans Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Babineaux were the pass-rushing stars in the exhibition opener against the Titans. Soliai had a dominant bull rush. Jackson had a sack and Babineaux had a strip that was turned into a touchdown.

Rookie Vic Beasley, who expected to lead the pass rush this season, was solid, but didn’t make any big plays in his 10 snaps.

Shortly after being draft, Beasley predicted that he would be double digit sacker as a rookie. He had a strong training camp, but now it’s time to see it in a NFL game.

5. Backup quarterback: T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree are in a fierce battle for the backup spot.

This battle will likely go down to the fourth and final exhibition game.

Both had their moments against the Titans, but Renfree led the reserves on a nice 16-play, 86-yard touchdown drive.

Yates played 32 snaps and Renfree 23 last week. Look for that to change as Renfree received more time with the second unit in practice.

The Falcons kept three quarterbacks last season, but may elect to just carry two.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.