FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons just spent five days in NY/NJ engaging in a competitive stretch of two joint practices and an game against the New York Jets. They embark on another one this week, now lining up against the Jacksonville Jaguars here at IBM Performance Field.
It's the preseason's last stand, with more than a few roles left uncertain as bubble players continue trying to impress. Some roster spots remain open, and we'll find out soon enough who will fill them.
Most of your questions regard the state of certain position groups, but we start with Drake London and Kyle Pitts, more specifically how one dynamic talent can help the other.
Paul Robson from London, England
I was lucky enough to get to watch Pitts' first touchdown against the jets last year; do you think the introduction of London and some scheme changes will mean he gets more endzone targets this year or will he continue to be used to drag defenders and double teams to make space for others?
Bair: I think Pitts would be more involved in the red zone regardless, but I will say Drake London, if he plays to the level I expect, will make life easier on Pitts near the goal line. The Pro Bowler remains the biggest receiving threat and will be covered accordingly, but defenses won't be able to sell out trying to stop Pitts if London's also in the pattern. And Cordarrelle Patterson. And big target Bryan Edwards.
But, back to your point, Paul. If London has a solid start and commands respect, that will change how the Falcons are defended. It will certainly help Pitts, and head coach Arthur Smith is fully capable of creating ways for them to work off of each other and find mismatches.
And, before London got hurt, he looked pretty good. He's a quality route runner with a bag of tricks to create separation and get open, combined with the speed and size to each yards after the catch. Combine that skill set with what Pitts can do – he's a better route runner in Year 2, with improved blocking ability that will help him in-line – and other receiving talents and the Falcons could be pretty good in the passing game.
Jerry Blash from Hinesville, Ga.
I usually have one bubble player that I really root for during preseason play. This season, that player is #83 Bernhardt. This kid gives me Wes Welker vibes. I will be absolutely pissed if he doesn't make the roster. He has really shined in the first two preseason games. Does he have a real shot, or will he get eaten by the numbers monster? I doubt he clears waivers for the practice squad based on what he's put on tape. Any bubble players you really pulling for?
Bair: I agree with you that Jared Bernhardt continues to flash in games and practices. Will he make the roster? He's got a shot, more of one than I gave him a few weeks back. But the receiver group is severely impacted, with more talent than roster spots. Check out Tori McElhaney's piece on the topic for an in-depth look at the situation.
London, Edwards and Olamide Zaccheaus are locks. KhaDarel Hodge seems to have a spot, in my opinion. That leaves one, maybe two spots for a lot of contenders. I can see a way Bernhardt makes it as a sixth receiver, if they keep six. I could also see him getting plucked off waivers as well. It would be a risky cut, but I do think the Falcons want him to stick around. Another solid week and he could prompt the Falcons to keep him on the roster, for sure. He has a lot of development work to do at a relatively new position, but you can tell the guy's an athlete, a playmaker.
In terms of other bubble players I like, Dee Alford's an obvious one. I also like how Nate Landman plays, but that might be a practice-squad or bust situation. And there's Derrick Tangelo and Timmy Horne to follow at a defensive line position that may have a spot up for grabs. But more on that below.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets in the second preseason game of 2022.
Kelvin Berry from Sierra Madre, Ca.
The one position that just feels weak still is the DL interior. I really like Dean Pees philosophy but with Marlon Davidson just having surgery and Vincent Taylor on IR, i just feel one big DT is missing? After more cuts by Tuesday, do you see possibly one top DT maybe as Davidson doesn't even seem to be a lock this season imo.
Bair: I definitely agree with you there, Kelvin. So does Corinthians Brown, who asked a similar question. The defensive line has taken some big hits injury-wise, with Vincent Taylor lost for the year, Marlon Davidson out for a while and even Jalen Dalton waived-injured on Tuesday.
Coaches will continue to evaluate Horne and Tangelo, plus older players Abdullah Anderson and Darrion Daniels, but looking outside the organization after final cuts might be the way to go.
Grady Jarrett, Anthony Rush and TaQuon Graham seem set to start. If Davidson's not ready to start the regular season, then the Falcons have (maybe) Anderson and an undrafted players to flesh out the rotation? I think they'd want a more established presence in the mix. They have the money to go secure one, or just claim someone off waivers.
Corey Hobbs from Birmingham, Al.
Can you share an update on 3rd round pick DeAngelo Malone and clarify the overall OLB situation? He shows as 4th on the depth chart. Can we assume he's struggling? There were questions about size and strength when he was drafted. Is the overall group better than expected or behind schedule?
Bair: I have a tough time saying a drafted talent from a small school is struggling in his first training camp. There's naturally a bigger adjustment coming from Western Kentucky to the NFL than some bigger schools. The Falcons have long-term visions for players and bring some along in a more deliberate manner. Hopes for Malone should remain high.
In terms of the edge rusher spot, I think Ade Ogundeji is having a sneaky-good preseason and could be a regular opposite Lorenzo Carter. Arnold Ebiketie has really flashed and is developing quickly even with some expected rookie mistakes being made. I think the edge rushers will be better than last year's group – that doesn't mean they'll be elite or anything -- and will be better yet in 2023.
Call for questions
We've got another Bair Mail coming on Friday. Submit your questions right here for inclusion in that edition.