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Five players to watch in final preseason game vs. Steelers

The Falcons host the Steelers on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for their third and final preseason game of 2023.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — One more, then it counts.

The Falcons have their third and final preseason game Thursday (7:30 p.m., FOX 5; 92.9-FM) against the Pittsburgh Steelers iatMercedes-Benz Stadium. That will mark the unofficial end of the Falcons' training camp. Atlanta is still technically hosting two more practices Saturday and Sunday before the cutdown deadline Tuesday.

Because of the dark cloud that looms over Tuesday, when the 90-man roster will be narrowed down to 53 men, Thursday's exhibition event doubles as the Falcons' last live audition to make the team. It's safe to assume game film weighs more than practice film during the evaluation period. So, this is serious even if the outcome doesn't really matter.

With that said, yours truly will be keeping a close eye on players who could be considered on the bubble. Below are just five to watch.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals during Preseason Week 2.

QB Logan Woodside

Woodside is listed as the third-string quarterback on the latest depth chart, and that was made clear in the last Friday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, which ended in a 13-all tie. Desmond Ridder got the start as QB1, played one series — completing seven of his nine pass attempts for 80 yards and an interception — and was quickly replaced by Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke then led five series, completing 13 of his 21 pass attempts for 162 yards. And Woodside finished off the final three series, including the one that set up the Falcons' game-tying field goal within the last minute. He completed four of his six pass attempts for 58 yards.

Woodside saw a lot less field time than sin the first preseason game, a win over the Miami Dolphins, when he played all four quarters and completed 14 of his 23 pass attempts for 146 yards.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith applauded how Woodside has performed throughout training camp more than once, acknowledging that makes the decision on whether to keep all three quarterbacks much more difficult. Atlanta had two on its initial 53-man roster last season with Ridder and Marcus Mariota. But that doesn't have to be the case in 2023.

Atlanta Falcons tight end John FitzPatrick #87 during AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Monday, August 21, 2023. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta Falcons)

TE John FitzPatrick

FitzPatrick could be a not-so-sneaky threat in the passing game if kept around this season. He wouldn't be quite so covert since he's 6-foot-7 ad 250 pounds, so it'd be difficult to miss him. But it wouldn't be a surprise, especially since he and Ridder are from the Falcons' same 2022 draft class. Even Ridder has said FitzPatrick is going to get his fair share of touches this year. Again, that's if FitzPatrick is kept around.

The Falcons' go-to tight end is obviously Kyle Pitts. The two have a similar build, though. Pitts is only an inch shorter and four pounds lighter, and he is always a threat in the passing game when healthy.

That health caveat has played a large factor in FitzPatrick's young career already. That's likely why he hasn't developed into a well-known name yet. He spent all of his rookie season on injured reserve.

FitzPatrick has appeared in both preseason games so far, though he only recorded stats in the second. He had two catches on three targets for 30 yards. The second reception came in a clutch moment during the Falcons' final game-tying drive. FitzPatrick caught a 25-yard pass from Woodside to move the chains and break Atlanta into enemy territory. It was the longest play of that drive and therefore helped set up the game-deciding field goal.

Thursday provides another opportunity for FitzPatrick to show the Falcons decision-makers that he has the potential to be more than just a big body in the blocking game. He can be an impact-play threat, too.

WR Josh Ali

There are multiple wide receivers who could be put on this list. That's the nature of the preseason. Offensive weapons galore.

Ali, however, is the one who stood out because he is also consciously trying to make a push for a spot on special teams. He knows that is another way to make this team, and then he can build from there. Which is true.

Ali said he believes he has already shown his coaches what he brings to the table offensively, and he has done so over time, too. He spent 2022, his rookie season, on the Falcons' practice squad. He did appear in two regular-season games, taking 14 offensive snaps, but did not capitalize on his one target.

This preseason, against the Dolphins, Ali caught one pass on three targets for 14 yards. Versus the Bengals, he led the Falcons with three catches on four targets for 39 yards. His longest reception was a 21-yarder.

On Thursday, Ali hopes to get more chances on special teams. He hasn't gotten as many reps in that phase of the game as he would have liked so far, and this is his last exhibition chance to do so. If Ali does receive the opportunity and actually puts his money where his mouth is, then special teams could very well be how Ali earns a bid.

S DeMarcco Hellams

Hellams shouldn't even be on the bubble. But the Falcons' safety room is crowed with talent and all of its members are healthy (unlike the cornerbacks). And thus, Hellams' roster spot is not guaranteed.

On the most recent depth chart, Richie Grant and Jessie Bates III are down as the starters. Jaylinn Hawkins and Micah Abernathy are the backups. Hellams is a reserve.

Hellams, though, has made a splash in training camp. He has had back-to-back games with an interception. He returned his pick against the Dolphins for 15 yards in the first quarter, and he returned his pick against the Bengals for five yards in the fourth quarter. Between the two games, Hellams has been responsible for 12 tackles, three pass breakups and the two interceptions. Smith spoke highly of Hellams after each performance.

The Falcons selected Hellams with a seventh-round pick in the 2023 draft. He finished out his four-year career at Alabama with 255 tackles, 13 pass breakups, three interceptions, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble and recovery. Smith said what the Falcons staff sees out of Hellams on a day-to-day basis is exactly what members saw when he was at Alabama — and that's why he's here.

Another interception Thursday and there's no way Hellams gets cut.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins during Preseason Week 1.