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Falcons vs. Jaguars: Roster battles to watch, key matchups and 3 more things to know

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons' 2017 preseason schedule will culminate with a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Atlanta is still searching for its first victory of the preseason, but winning an exhibition game isn't the most important thing at this time of the year.


With roster cuts looming, players will get one final chance to make a statement on Thursday night. The Falcons have had some intriguing camp battles this year, and it will be exciting to see how it all plays out in the final game.

Here are the most important things to know as the Falcons prepare to play the Jaguars.

1. Position battles: Keep an eye on RG, CB, WR

Most of the Falcons' starters aren't expected to play much, if at all, on Thursday evening, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch. At the top of that list are the ongoing competitions across the depth chart. Let's dig into some of the notable ones.

Right guard: Wes Schweitzer started the third preseason game over Ben Garland, but coach Dan Quinn stressed the point that the decision is not an indication of who's in the lead for the starting right guard spot. Both players have played close to the same number of snaps this preseason, and it appears to be a tight race.

Cornerback: The fourth cornerback role is in play for a number of guys, but C.J. Goodwin's name has been mentioned all throughout camp. Competing with Goodwin are Deji Olatoye, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Akeem King, all of whom should see plenty of playing time on Thursday.

Wide receiver: There may be room for one or two newcomers on the final roster, however, and there are several interesting options to choose from. Former Georgia receiver Reggie Davis has made several big plays this preseason, and he's impressed on special teams as well. Marvin Hall, Josh Magee and Nick Williams are also receivers who have looked good early on. It will be interesting to see who emerges against the Jaguars.

2. Still looking for a complete game on special teams

Atlanta has yet to play at a high level across the board on special teams in the same game. Against Miami, the Falcons had some memorable returns and good play from their coverage units, but also turned the ball over twice. At Pittsburgh, Atlanta's punt protection broke down at various times.

In the most recent game against Arizona, Quinn said he was pleased with the improvement on the coverage units, but the Falcons didn't do much returning kicks.

"On teams, I was more encouraged by our cover units – that would be on punt and not kickoff," Quinn said. "After (the Pittsburgh) game, we tried to emphasize that as hard as we could to make sure we could improve upon that. We didn't get a lot out of our return game (against Arizona), but I was encouraged from our cover groups."

3. Key matchups to watch

Although it's difficult to predict who will be on the field Thursday night, or for how long, there are still a few matchups worth pointing out.

Most notably, former LSU teammates Duke Riley and Leonard Fournette may go head-to-head for the first time in their NFL careers. Fournette has missed the previous two games with a toe injury, but reports indicate he is healthy and wants to get some playing time in the preseason finale. Riley has progressed well since training camp, and Quinn expects him to have a role on defense as a rookie.

Veteran linebacker Lerentee McCray has been a player who has impressed Jacksonville’s coaches this preseason. He has pass-rush ability, and he should test the Falcons' offensive line. The offensive line depth is one area that's still being evaluated, so McCray, Sheldon Day and Dante Fowler – if he plays – will provide a nice challenge.

4. Consistency will be key

What exactly do coaches look for when determining who makes the cut? On Tuesday, Quinn explained he wants to see which players can play at their best for the longest.

"The main thing is really 'doing right longer,'" Quinn said. "Who can execute at the highest level for the whole game? That part of having that kind of intensity sustained all the way through. There's going to be extended play time for some guys that have not had that. So, can you prove it over quarters that you can get the job done over and over again."

As Quinn and his staff go back through the film of the Falcons' practices and games, they are looking to see which players have been the most consistent in their play. That's not to say that mistakes can't happen, but reliability is a quality that will stand out.

5. Injury update

Devonta Freeman returned to practice this week, but Quinn confirmed he would not play in the Falcons' final preseason game. The other players who will not suit up for Atlanta are rookie running back Brian Hill, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds and offensive lineman Austin Pasztor. 

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