EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Football is finally here.
The Falcons will take on the New York Jets for their first preseason game on Friday night. Although the starting units will likely see very little time, these games are still extremely valuable because of the evaluations that occur. For the past 11 days, the Falcons have been implementing their new installments and making the necessary tweaks in their offensive and defensive schemes, and now they’ll get their first crack at seeing how it all plays out against a different team.
Let’s preface this by saying it is only preseason and a lot can and will change from now until Week 1 of the regular season, but the first preseason game gives a first glimpse of what this Falcons team looks like to this point.
Here are seven things to watch on Friday night at MetLife Stadium:
1. How Calvin Ridley will be featured in the offense
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the Falcons’ first-round draft pick since he arrived in Atlanta in early May. And the rookie hasn’t disappointed. We don’t know how exactly offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will feature Ridley in the offense this season, but we’ve seen him moved around a good amount. Whether he’s lined up inside or outside, Ridley’s proved he can be an asset in this offense. It’s unclear how much Ridley will play on Friday night, but seeing where he is used when and how will be something to keep an eye on.
2. Who plays (and when) at right guard?
One of the few position battles this Falcons team has right now is at right guard. When the first unofficial depth chart was released earlier this week, Wes Schweitzer was listed as the starter. Brandon Fusco is his backup, but it’s likely a battle that will go on throughout the preseason. The Falcons signed Fusco in free agency this spring while Schweitzer returns for his third season having started all 16 games at right guard last season. With limited contact in training camp practices, this game will give the coaching staff a clearer evaluation of each player.
3. The makeup of special teams units
For many players, their special teams’ value can help make their case for a spot on the 53-man roster. Preseason games give these players the opportunity to go out and prove their worth on special teams. There’s been several changes made to the kickoff this year, how will the players adapt? The rule changes are the following:
- Players cannot move past the restraining line until the ball hits the ground or is touched.
- The wedge block has been eliminated.
- Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross the restraining line (typically its 45) or initiate a block.
- When the ball hits the end zone, it's immediately ruled a touchback. There is no need for a player to down the ball in the end zone to initiate a touchback.
Who will make their case on special teams?
4. The defensive tackle rotation
As of right now, the Falcons’ starting defensive tackles are Grady Jarrett and Terrell McClain. So how much will Jack Crawford and rookie Deadrin Senat play and how do they look? Getting a look at the rotation between those four will be something to keep an eye on. This will be the first time Terrell McClain will be seeing game action with the Falcons, how does he look alongside Jarrett? Crawford has high expectations for himself now that he returns healthy and at this time last year he was really making a name for himself in that unit. The Falcons drafted Senat in the third round out of South Florida and coach Quinn has said that some of the rookies will be expected to have important roles this season. Will he be one?
5. Watch the battle for the No. 3 running back spot
The Falcons have their No. 1 and 2 running backs locked in, but the No. 3 running back spot will likely come down to who provides the most value on special teams. As we saw last year with Terron Ward, the No. 3 running back spot has an important role on the team. And right now, it appears rookie Ito Smith is in the driver’s seat for that job but undrafted free agent Just Crawford has made several impressive plays during camp. The Falcons drafted Smith out of Southern Mississippi in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Who will ultimately win the job?
6. Will any of the new wrinkles offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has implemented be on display?
We’ve heard all offseason about the new wrinkles expected to be added to the Falcons’ offense. Will any of them be on display against the Jets or will Sarkisian and Co. keep those quiet until the regular season?
7. Has the emphasis the Falcons have placed on the winning the turnover margin paid off?
One of the two areas Quinn said his team fell short in last season was their red-zone scoring offense and winning the turnover margin. Quinn said this is the best offseason he’s been a part of based on the way his players and coaching staff attacked it, will the emphasis the team has placed on the ball be on display?