FLOWERY BRANCH — While wide receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Green will share the marquee for this exhibition game, here’s a look at five battles that will help to shape the Falcons’ final 53-man roster when the Falcons face the Bengals at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
1. Right guard. Garrett Reynolds and Joe Hawley shared the right guard position last season.
Reynolds must hold off rookie Peter Konz, a second-round pick, who’s working with the second-team. Hawley has been told he’s more of a center and that he’ll need back-up at center, right guard and left guard.
“They’re guys that were drafted to our roster that we think can come in and fit in,” Smith said. “With that said, there’s going to be some competition. I think they understand it, and I think they have responded to it very well.”
Reynolds had a good outing against the Ravens in the exhibition opener.
“I thought Garrett had a very good steady game,” Smith said. “We kept the quarterback clean in the first game, and that’s the thing that we want to try to do in this game against the Bengals.”
The first-team offense is being heavily scrutinized by the coaching staff.
“They’re going to get more snaps, and we’re going to try to get some guys in some different combinations,” Smith said. “You’ll see in the second group and they’ll be some different combinations going on. Then, we’ll try and solidify in Week 3 and Week 4 what we’re going to try and do in Week 1 [of the regular season].”
2. Wide receiver. Drew Davis and Kevin Cone, the speedster from Georgia Tech, are in a heated battle for perhaps the last wide receiver spot on the roster.
Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Kerry Meier have the top four spots. The Falcons could go with six receivers, but mostly like are going to keep five on the 53-man roster and special teams play will be the deciding factor.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how that competition goes,” Smith said. “That’s one that most people are not talking about.”
3. Middle linebacker.Mike Peterson will get the start with Akeem Dent out with a concussion. Peterson will likely enter the season as the backup at all of the linebacker positions.
Dent should come out of the league’s concussion protocol program over the weekend and be ready to play against the Miami Dolphins on Friday, Aug 24.
“Akeem is a guy that we’re counting on heavy to be our linebacker,” Smith said. “And our number one goal, and I say it all the time, is to be as healthy as we can possibly be on opening day.”
Undrafted rookies Max Gruder and Pat Schiller will follow Peterson in the middle linebacker rotation.
Linebacker coach Glenn Pires expects to see some improvement with their first-game jitters out of the way.
“This week is going to be a big, big week for those guys,” Pires said.
4. Outside linebacker.Weakside linebacker Robert James and strongside linebacker Spencer Adkins figure to be the backup outside linebackers behind Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas, respectively.
But Rico Council, an undrafted rookie from Tennessee State, has turned some heads with his striking ability.
“He’s a big, burly and thick guy,” Pires said. “He’s got to bring the wood. Those are his assets. He’s a big and strong guy. He’s physical in the run game. That’s what we want to get from him, getting downhill and playing physical.”
5. Backup quarterback.Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson and Dominique Davis are in a battle for one or possibly two roster spots. There will be an odd man out in this high profile game of musical chairs.
Redman will get more playing time against the Bengals. Wilson had his moments against the Ravens and Davis is having a strong camp.
“Red has been around a long time,” quarterbacks coach Glenn Thomas said. “He knows defenses and what looks he will see. He just has to continue to improve and get the ball to where it is supposed to be. Having some carryover with the offense has helped him with Dirk [Koetter] coming in.”
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