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5 Things to Watch For During ATLvsCLE Matchup

Freeney's Debut:Thursday's game will be Dwight Freeney's first in a Falcons uniform. According to head coach Dan Quinn, the veteran pass-rusher will be used on third downs in the nickel package.

"It's not going to be a lot, but it will be enough to get where I feel comfortable with him [getting] in the groove, him feeling good in the technique," Quinn said about Freeney's workload. "Once he starts to feel (tired), that's when I'll pull him. It's somewhere in a quarter. It's his first game so it won't be a lot, but it will be enough to get him going."

Neal Ready to Roll: Keanu Neal will also make his first appearance for Atlanta after missing last week with a trunk injury. The first-round draft pick has received "full clearance" to play, according to Quinn, and will be given an opportunity to showcase the aggressiveness and athleticism that made him a standout safety during training camp.

"We want to make sure that we get him the right amount of snaps and the right amount of reps to get going," Quinn said. "We're anxious for him to get some quarters over the next three weeks.

"Really the physicality (is what we want to see from Neal). That's the part of his game that really comes to life. He's done a very good job at picking up the system and now I want to see the communication take place on the field where he and Ricardo (Allen) are back there at safety and they can direct it. Really, just the physicality and tackling. That's such a really strong part of his game and I can't wait to see that come to life, and for all of you to see that as well."

First-Team Offense Motivated to Rebound: After going three and out twice against Washington, Atlanta's first-team offense is determined to produce this week. That unit can gain a lot of confidence if it moves the ball downfield and converts in the red zone against a well-coached defense. As Alex Mack told reporters, the goal is to make plays when opportunities present themselves and make sure the drives are long.

"I mean, it's just getting back out on to the field and practicing to get better," QB Matt Ryan said. "I think overall I did some good things in the last game. Put the ball in places where I wanted to, but it's a small sample size. Six plays are six plays. It's good to get that rust off, and then it's just coming back and working on all the things we need to do to get better."

Competition Will Continue: Position battles — especially those at linebacker, guard, cornerback, wide receiver, and return specialist — remained hotly contested throughout training camp. This will only add intrigue to Thursday's contest.

"As a whole group, we went back yesterday and asked, 'How are we coming, in terms of wanting to go attack?' We came up with, 'We're not there yet as a group,'" Quinn said Tuesday.

"We do talk about the battles that go on and the competition amongst one another. That part we are living. The good news is we all recognize that we still have work to do and that's what this camp mode is about. So it was great to go right back to that topic yesterday."

Who Will Rise to the Occasion?: Last Thursday, college free agent signings J.D. McKissic, Brian Poole and Brandon Wilds were three under-the-radar players who stepped up at the Georgia Dome. Who will turn heads this week? Atlanta will have to make its first round of cuts on Aug. 30, so the time is now for those on the bubble to show coaches they have what it takes to stick around.

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