The Falcons second preseason game was much more entertaining than the first. We got to see some starters on the field, but more than anything, there was some offense. Some of our breakout candidates excelled. Others faltered, but isn’t that what preseason is all about?
The Falcons are loaded at wide receiver
This is something we already knew based on the players that didn’t even play yesterday. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu are indisputably the best receiving trio in the league, but there are some guys behind them making some serious noise.
Russell Gage is a player I’ve talked about a lot this offseason. Following a quality rookie campaign in 2018, the LSU product had a terrific summer and is bidding for the fourth wide receiver spot. Even though he’s only played a few series in the preseason, he’s looked like the best receiver on the field each game.
Olamide Zaccheaus, an UDFA out of Virginia, made a fantastic catch down the sideline, strengthening his bid to make the team. Although, with so many quality options available, that is going to be tough. The same can be said for Christian Blake, who is having an eye-opening summer.
The running back job is up for grabs
In the Hall-of-Fame Game, the Falcons gave the bulk of the carries to Brian Hill, and he made the most of them. This time it was split between Hill and rookie running back, Qadree Ollison, out of Pittsburgh. They each had eight carries and scored a touchdown, but it was Ollison who outgained Hill 41 to 23. Both runners looked the part, so I wouldn’t say there was much separation. However, with Ollison being drafted this season, it’s going to take a lot for Hill to steal a roster spot.
We have yet to see much of Ito Smith this preseason, which to me, suggests he is the favorite to land the backup running back job, as he should be. The positive news is all three of them look like they belong in the NFL. Given Devonta Freeman’s injury history, it’s a great problem to have.
Matt Schaub is the Falcons best option at backup
Not that it matters all that much. If Matt Ryan goes down, the Falcons are 100% screwed. However, people were quick to judge Schaub off a few measly drives last week. He showed he deserves the backup QB job against the Dolphins, throwing for 172 yards on 12/19 passing. The gap between him and Matt Sims is as big as it could be.
Jermaine Grace is a name to watch at linebacker
Grace has a history with the Falcons. They picked him up as an UDFA in 2017, and he made the team but was released after five games. Then he had short stints with the Colts, Seahawks, and Browns before returning to Atlanta’s practice squad last year. Now, he is showing out in the preseason. Grace had five tackles and a pass defended, but his most significant contribution was an interception that he nearly took to the endzone.
Dan Quinn says Grace reminds him of Deion Jones because of his coverage skills. You can see those attributes distinctly on this pick of Josh Rosen.
Jermaine Grace with a great interception pic.twitter.com/kmnDX87bM3
— Carlton (@SlopingGiraffe) August 9, 2019
Outside of Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Foyesade Oluokun; there aren’t many linebackers on this roster that inspire faith. With more plays like this, Grace has a fantastic opportunity to earn a spot on the 53-man.
Austin Larkin was a beast off the edge
Larkin went on a tear last night, playing perhaps the best game of his life. The Purdue product only had 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks his entire collegiate career, but that’s not the same player that showed up against Miami. Larkin had a team-high six tackles, a sack, tackle for loss, two QB hits, and even had a pass defended. He was a nuisance off the edge, and while it’s unlikely he makes the team, the Falcons need pass rushers more than anything.
Rookie cornerbacks need a lot of work
Jordan Miller and Kendall Sheffield have both sparked some confidence from the Falcons faithful after impressive summers, but yesterday reminded us to temper our expectations. They are both rookies and were drafted in the fourth round or later. It would be a miracle for them to step up as starters right away.
To end the first half, Jordan Miller was abused on three consecutive plays. In fairness, he was right there in coverage, but it goes to show the difference between NFL and collegiate wide receivers. At this level, if you’re not making a play on the ball, the opponent is, and drops are a rarity. Miller was taught the hard way, and it led to three points for the Dolphins.
To begin the second half; it was Kendall Sheffield’s turn to learn a lesson. The Dolphins pulled down two contested catches just before the rookie cornerback from Ohio State could make a play on the ball, leading to a touchdown. There remains a lot to like about both of these guys, but hopefully neither will be forced to do too much early on in the season.