The final preseason game is upon us. And shall I say it? Thank goodness. Once you get to this point of the preseason, things almost feel like they drag on. But for the Falcons, this is a huge weekend for decision-makers as the 53-man cut down date of August 30 looms.
For some players, this is the last chance they'll get to turn coaches' heads before cuts are made. So, with this thought in mind, who are some players I'll be watching? Great question. I'd love to tell you (in no particular order).
The guy has swept through the Falcons preseason. He's an Arthur Smith project if there ever was one: One of the best lacrosse players in the country transformed into undrafted NFL wide receiver. He's flashed at every point in training camp. He was one of Desmond Ridder's favorite targets against New York on Monday night, and Bernhardt has since seen his first team rotational reps increase.
This is a player who no one had heard of prior to training camp. He's now a player who's on just about everyone's list of players to watch in the final week of the preseason. He's fighting for a roster spot. So, of course, he's making our list, too.
Like Bernhardt, Dee Alford is another player who skyrocketed up the depth chart over the course of the preseason. He now finds himself working for a starting job at nickel, having entered the conversation alongside Mike Ford. That's left us with the question: Well, if that's the case, what about Isaiah Oliver? The former starting nickel for the Falcons is still actively working his way back from a season-ending knee injury.
However, he has yet to crack the second-team defense throughout almost all of camp. He did not travel to Detroit for the first preseason game, and played sparingly against New York. Are the Falcons worried about bringing him along too quickly? And playing him before he's ready? Or have Alford and Ford earned the right on their own to play with the first-team? If so, is a roster spot even available for Oliver? Every thing feels up-in-the-air right now for a player that finally seemed to have found his niche.
For the first time since last season, we saw Jones in a Falcons uniform again. Jones had a shoulder procedure done during the offseason and was excused from mandatory minicamp as he rehabbed post-surgery. Prior to training camp, the Falcons placed Jones on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, where he stayed until this week. Jones participated in both joint practices with the Jaguars, but there are still major questions surrounding him.
Now activated, Jones can play at any time without restrictions. But does that mean we'll actually see him face Jacksonville? If he's really wanting to compete for a starting spot like he said on Wednesday is something he wants, perhaps we do see him. But I am a little skeptical. He was running with the third- and fourth-team reserves this week. He was even in on punt coverage. Smith has said Jones will have to work to get back on the field because they're not willing to take a starting spot away from Rashaan Evans or Mykal Walker.
So, does that work begin in the final game of the preseason? Would it behoove Jones (and the Falcons) to show teams Jones is healthy in case a trade offer presents itself? Or do the Falcons hold him back? We just don't know, but we'll find out soon enough.
Franks took a lot of heat from the fanbase after the second half of Monday night's game. And yeah, I get the frustration, it wasn't a good half of football. But I don't rest the blame solely on Franks' shoulders. Those shoulders haven't had a red quarterback jersey on since camp begin. I don't think I am over simplifying the situation to say Franks has not been a quarterback this camp. I would say he's taken 85 percent of his preseason practice snaps at tight end. Only recently - when the preseason games began - did we see him get a bit more work at quarterback.
Franks growth as a tight end throughout the preseason surprised me. I even got to the point where I was willing to put him on my 53-man roster projection not as a quarterback, but as a tight end. That's how highly I thought of his transition. However, we haven't seen him in hardly any action at the position in any of the first two preseason games. I can't help but think you all now think I am crazy for praising Franks' tight end play the way I did throughout the first two and a half weeks of camp. But I promise you what I saw was real, and I just wish everyone else could have seen more of it.
But perhaps that's by design? Maybe the Falcons don't want tape out there on Franks? I've thought that a few times, too, but now I sound like a conspiracy theorist so I need to move on.
Here's the thing: I am not sure the numbers work in Ollison's favor right now. Though we have seen him a ton throughout camp, I feel that may be because you know you're not going to see Cordarrelle Patterson or Damien Williams much at all in order to keep them fresh for the season.
If the Falcons carry Avery Williams as a running back, and - of course - they'll keep Tyler Allgeier, is there even room for Ollison on the 53-man? Could a solid performance on Saturday afternoon change anything? We shall see.
We take a look as the Jaguars join us in Flowery Branch.