FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons wrapped up their final practice of 2018 AT&T Training Camp on Wednesday, and they now turn their attention to the preseason opener against the New York Jets.
The Falcons and Jets square off Friday. A 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff is scheduled at MetLife Stadium.
This offers the first opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the rookie class against live NFL competition, and it sounds as though they plan on giving the first-year players a lot of time on the field.
"One of the things that we're really committed to is playing the rookies and the first-year guys," head coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday. "If you look back on our history of play time for the preseason it would show that. It's such an important time to evaluate. We wouldn't put them in if we didn't think they had earned some play time here during minicamp and training camp to get ready. We're totally committed to playing those guys and seeing what they look like."
Quinn has spoken well of the Falcons' rookie class this offseason, but Friday will present their first true test since arriving in the NFL.
Quinn plans to keep an eye on these positions
While he will undoubtedly go back and evaluate every player on the field Friday night, Quinn did single out a few positions he is interested to watch against the Jets.
Offensively, he named the fullback position – which is down to Ricky Ortiz and Luke McNitt – as one where there is "real competition," mentioning their play on special teams will be important as well. He also said he is looking to see how second-year tight end Eric Saubert fares in game action, and Quinn will also be watching the depth at receiver closely.
"This offseason, we've seen that jump take place where it's like, 'Man, you know your stuff,'" Quinn said of Saubert. "Let this natural athleticism jump out. And he's really turning into the pass-catching tight end that I'd hoped we'd see. I'm anxious for him to get a chance to see that, because with that role he also has to be active and have a role on special teams. But he's long and he's fast, and I see now the athlete there."
Defensively, Quinn said they've added some defensive backs and he's "anxious to see what they look like." The linebacker position is another spot where Quinn will be looking at the depth and how they fare on special teams.
Other practice notes and observations
- The offense looked crisp going through their final practice before their first preseason game, making plays both on the ground and through the air.
- Matt Ryan, especially, had some nice zip on the ball and did not lack for accuracy when targeting his receivers.
- Ryan had at least two touchdowns during 11-on-11s, finding both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in the back right corner of the end zone while rolling out to his right.
- Ryan and Hooper also continued to show their comfort with one another, as the tight end was Ryan's target on his first two attempts during a two-minute drill.
- Rookie quarterback Kurt Benkert missed an open Christian Blake on a throw that would have been a touchdown. He did bounce back from that miss, however, to hit Russell Gage on a well-timed throw over the middle and later found rookie tight end Jaeden Graham in the end zone.
- Garrett Grayson also tossed a touchdown pass to Graham at the end of practice, hitting him on a corner route.
- The running backs showed good vision on Wednesday afternoon. Devonta Freeman made a decisive upfield cut to find a crease and hit the second level quickly, and rookie Justin Crawford made a wide back-side cut to reverse field and get to the edge.
- Returning punts for the Falcons at the start of practice were Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall and Calvin Ridley. While they were fielding the punts, various coaches were trying to distract them.
- Ridley did end up dropping one of the punts.