After the final exhibition game, it’s pretty clear that the Falcons will have some agonizing decisions to make to fill their 53-man roster.
While long-shot prospects hoping to make the Falcons roster will have extended opportunities in the final exhibition game, most of the work has been completed.
The Falcons must be down to 53 players, from 91, at 4 p.m. Sept. 2. They have an International player exemption for tight end Alex Gray, a developmental player from London.
“It all adds in,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The pressure is hopefully there for everyone and every game you feel it.”
Quinn talks about putting all of the players in stressful situations to see how they’ll perform.
“Playing longer for some guys will all factor in,” Quinn said. “We’re anxious to see them all. We really are.”
Here’s a look at each position group and the players’ chances of making the final roster (the number beside each position listing is the number on the Falcons’ final 53-man roster last season):
Matt Simms has been getting the bulk of the exhibition-season action. Matt Ryan appears primed to follow up his MVP season, while Matt Schaub has displayed a live arm in practice.
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisan discussed his relationship with Ryan.
“It’s gone really well,” Sarkisian said. “I think Matt and I, again, I’ve said this all along, for whatever reason, we hit it off really well from the beginning.
“Our conversations are good about football. Our conversation are good about life and I think that’s what a healthy relationship needs to be, coordinator/play-caller with your quarterback. It’s gone really well.”
Like most relationships, there will be some bumps in the road.
“It hasn’t all been perfect and we’ve had to go through some growing pains,” Sarkisian said. “I’m sure we’ll still have growing pains down the road, but so far, so good.”
Locks (2): Ryan, Schaub
Long shots (2): Simms, Alek Torgersen
RUNNING BACKS (4)
The Falcons are waiting to get two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman back from NFL’s concussion protocol. The battle is for the third running back spot between Terron Ward and Brian Hill.
If both play well on special teams, the Falcons may be forced to keep them both.
Locks (3): Freeman, Tevin Coleman, FB Derrick Coleman
Bubble (2): Ward, Hill
Long shots (3): Kelvin Taylor, Jhurrell Pressley, FB Tyler Renew
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
There are appears to be one spot, maybe two, open.
Reggie Davis has led the Falcons in receiving yards with 114. He tied for the team lead with Anthony Dable with five catches each.
While Davis has impressed, he’s still a long shot.
“He came into our rookie minicamp, not even signed, but on a tryout,” Quinn said. “He’s learning new skills. He always had some return game from his time at the University of Georgia. He’s trying to compete as a gunner to go cover a punt, does he have that?”
Davis is making a strong bid.
“He made a good catch down the sideline (against Pittsburgh),” Quinn said. “He missed a block (in) the run game. That was critical. That consistency is what we are looking for.”
Davis must continue to play well and show that he can contribute on special teams.
“He’s definitely somebody, right from the first tryout that he put his best foot forward saying I want to show that I can do something here,” Quinn said. “We are encouraged by where he’s at so far.”
Locks (4): Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Andre Roberts
Bubble (3): Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Davis
Long shots (6): Josh Magee, Deante Burton, Reginald Davis III, Marvin Hall, Anthony Dable and Bra’Lon Cherry
TIGHT ENDS (4)
Second-year man Austin Hooper is set to takeover the starting spot.
Locks (2): Hooper, Levine Toilolo
Bubble (2): Joshua Perkins, Darion Griswold
Longshots (2): Eric Saubert, Gray
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
The battle between Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer for the vacant right guard spot is going down to the final exhibition game. The Falcons hope that Austin Pasztor can recovery from his pectoral injury in time to win the backup swing tackle spot.
Locks (7): Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder (tackles); Andy Levitre, Garland, Schweitzer and Sean Harlow (guards); Alex Mack (center)
Bubble (1): Pasztor (tackle)
Long shots (8): Daniel Brunskill, Will Freeman, Kevin Graf, Andreas Knappe, D.J. Tialavea (tackles); Travis Averill (guard); Cornelius Edison and Larson Graham (centers)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (4 tackles, 5 ends)
Tackle Dontari Poe and end Jack Crawford were added in free agency to bolster the group. The team also used its first-round draft pick to select defensive end Takkarist McKinley.
Poe, Crawford and McKinley have had strong exhibition seasons and look like upgrades.
Locks (8): Grady Jarrett, Poe, Ra’Shede Hageman, Crawford (tackles); Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, Courtney Upshaw and McKinley (ends)
Bubble (2): Joe Vellano (tackle) and Derrick Shelby (end)
Long shots (4): Taniela Tupou (tackle); J’Terius Jones, Chris Odom and Martin Ifedi (ends)
While Vic Beasley is listed as a linebacker, he plays defensive end in the nickel package. He led the league in sacks with 15.5 last season. Deion Jones is an emerging player at middle linebacker, while there is a battle for the weakside position.
Special teamer LaRoy Reynolds started at the weakside spot in the first two exhibition games, but the Falcons are high on third-round pick Duke Riley. Also, Kemal Ishamel has been converted to weakside linebacker from strong safety.
“We’re going to play (Reynolds) a little at (middle linebacker) in (Saturday’s) game and he’ll also play at (weakside),” Quinn said. “He’s been somebody that has improved his play from 2016 into 2017. He’s fighting for it too in terms of his play time.”
Ishmael filled at linebacker some last season.
“He has completely changed from a diet standpoint and training standpoint,” Quinn said. “He always had good size at safety, and he got even a little bigger and stronger there. He really dedicated himself. I’m not going to say to change his body, but it has changed from diet, nutrition, and training. He feels and is playing really at linebacker size. On our team, he is one of the bigger ones.”
Riley may have to start out as a reserve.
“We like where he’s headed,” Quinn said. “His football instincts are really good. We’re getting ready to get him into a role, and we’re getting closer to that of where he can fit in. I think that’s important early on, not training a first-year player with too many jobs. He’ll certainly have a big role on this team.”
Last season’s weakside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell has been move to strongside linebacker and has played well in the exhibition season.
Locks (4): Beasley, Jones, Campbell and Riley
Bubble (2): Reynolds and Ishmael
Long shots (3): Jack Lynn, Jermaine Grace and Josh Keyes
The Falcons are looking for a fourth cornerback to replace Jalen Collins, who was suspended for 10 games. C.J. Goodwin has been the steadiest of the group, followed by Deji Olatoye.
“Coming in and battling on every play and also battling on teams,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel when asked what he wants from the fourth or fifth cornerback. “That’s what they position (entails). That’s what training camp is about. That’s the exciting part. You don’t know who and you don’t know when, but you are excited to see at the end of the whole journey, who will stand out.”
Locks (3): Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Brian Poole
Bubble (3): Goodwin, Olatoye, Akeem King
Long shots (4): Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jarnor Jones, Jordan Moore. (Collins will start the season on the suspended list.)
The Falcons appear set here if they keep four safeties. They had to keep five last season because Keanu Neal was coming off a knee surgery.
Locks (4): Ricardo Allen, Neal, Damontae Kazee and Sharrod Neasman
Long shots (3): Quincy Mauger, Marcelis Branch and Deron Washington
The Falcons appear set here with punter Matt Bosher, kicker Matt Bryant and long snapper Josh Harris. However, they have been impressed with kicker Mike Meyer.
“Mike Meyer has done a really good job,” special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said. “It’s always good when you’re not talking about the kicker. He’s kicking off and he’s getting the balls in play. He’s putting it in the corner. He’s putting good hangtime on the ball in terms of kickoffs.
Locks (3): Bryant, Bosher and Harris
Long shot (1): Meyer