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Look Ahead: ATL-BAL


The fourth week of the preseason is largely viewed by fans as a ho-hum game. For most teams, it's a week when the starters won't even dress out for the game and the keys will be in the hands of the backups and players vying for roster spots. It remains to be seen if this will be the case for the Falcons, but if it is, there's plenty to keep an eye on. With the first round of league-mandated roster cuts due Tuesday, the Falcons will be getting the roster down to 80 players between now and then. After that, there's a whole lot of players vying for a few precious spots, which should provide a good look at what the Falcons will feature in terms of depth. *

The battles at several positions will likely be firmed up this week. The all-important nickelback battle between Chris Owens and Dominique Franks will be decided, and I wouldn't be surprised to see either or both of them get some significant playing time Thursday as the coaching staff may want to get that last, long look at the two in game situations. The same goes for the right guard position as Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson continue their competition. *

We'll likely get a good chance to see just how far players like second-year center Joe Hawley and third-year tackle Jose Valdez have come in their short careers. Hawley backs up starter Todd McClure and Valdez is listed as Sam Baker's backup at left tackle. Both look to have loads of potential and provide excellent depth at the positions, and Thursday's game puts the spotlight on players like these. *

Roster cuts are always a numbers game, and the Falcons have some talented players that may be caught up in that when all is said and done. The defensive end position is definitely crowded with eight players, and the linebacker spots are staffed by 11 players — and those are just two examples of how cramped positions are right now. After the roster gets down to 80 by Tuesday, the Falcons will use Thursday night's game to determine the fate of 27 players who won't be making the final roster. The Falcons need to be at 53 plus an eight-man practice squad by Sept. 4. *

Head coach Mike Smith saw a lot of things that he'd like to clean up before the Falcons head to Chicago for the season opener Sept. 11, and there's still plenty of time to get that done. While the Falcons will be on a short week this week — which includes only three days of practice before hitting the field against Baltimore — Smitty will have the weekend and all next week to get the mistakes he didn't like worked out before we get to games that start to count. No doubt he'll set to work immediately to polish up the areas that need it this week.

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