MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Falcons have already had a productive week here in South Florida. They conducted two clean, efficient joint practices with the Miami Dolphins, with a Friday walk-through after that. Now they've got a game to play.
Saturday night's preseason contest will be an important part of the evaluation process when finalizing the 53-man roster. We'll have to wait and see if starters get any action, but we know guys farther down the depth chart will. Let's focus on five things we will keep an eye on during the second preseason contest:
1. Backup QB battle
AJ McCarron has continued running the second unit, even after last week’s poor showing against the Tennessee Titans. One bad outing doesn't change the fact that he's a veteran with valuable experience orchestrating an offense. He remains in pole position to be Matt Ryan's primary backup.
While Feleipe Franks showcased mobility against Tennessee, he wasn't any better than McCarron throwing the football. He'll have to improve in that area on Saturday night and run a clean operation calling plays and signals at the line of scrimmage to make this an even position battle.
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2. Get the run game going
The Falcons ground game was stagnant against the Titans. The offensive line wasn't creating space and the backs weren't able to get revved up enough to show coaches what they could do.
They must show better on Saturday night both blocking and evading tacklers, with Caleb Huntley, D'Onta Foreman and Javian Hawkins set to take most of the carries. It seems likely one of those three will make the roster, and someone must stand out starting on Saturday night.
3. Getting after the quarterback
The Falcons harassed Titans quarterbacks last week in what was the most encouraging sign from a largely flat preseason performance. Dean Pees brought pressure from all levels of the defense and was successful keeping the Titans offense off balance.
The Falcons need more of that against the Dolphins, yet also need to win while rushing four. The defensive line must be disruptive, pressuring the quarterback without scheme help. Let's see if Adetokunbo Ogundeji continues an upward trend, and which other defensive linemen stand out and deserve consideration as members of the front's rotation.
4. Offensive line improvement
The Falcons offensive line struggled mightily last week, albeit with a collection of reserves running the show. They were heavily penalized, routinely stalling drives. That can't happen again, even if the second string sees most of the snaps. The Falcons need to trust their backups, especially versatile pieces who could be asked to play several different spots. Keep an eye on Jason Spriggs and Willie Beavers, combatants to be the Falcons swing tackle. Watch how Jalen Mayfield does at guard after playing tackle last week, and let's see how Drew Dalman fares when in at center or guard.
5. Final receiver spots
The Falcons have several contenders for the final spots on the 53-man roster at the receiver position. We can lock Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe onto the roster. Who might take the fifth receiver spot? Christian Blake or Chris Rowland? Frank Darby's on the bubble, too. Austin Trammell has flashed some in camp but must step up in a game. These guys also have to show well on special teams to stand out from a tight pack fighting for one, maybe two available jobs.
Take a look at some of the best Falcons fits in this gallery, presented by Delta. The team heads to Miami for joint practices with the Dolphins before Preseason Week 2 on Saturday.