ATLANTA – The Falcons 2021 slate has officially begun. Pretty much.
We're only just starting the preseason, where scores don't matter and the focus is on players who can help the 53-man roster this fall.
Friday night's preseason game against Tennessee was focused on those deeper on the depth chart, while most prominent Falcons players watched this game with us in the interest of preserving health.
There were some solid performances despite the Falcons struggling overall in a 23-3 loss to the Titans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Let's take a look at who stood out and why:
Adetokunbo Ogundeji: The Notre Dame product played a ton. Coaches got a long look at someone who could just well sneak into the regular rotation off the edge and will note some quality plays on tape.
Ogundeji logged some nice plays against the run – he was washed out of position in some instances – and was involved in this sack:
While it was just one preseason showing, this was a good start for a fifth-round pick trying to earn regular snaps during his rookie season.
Avery Williams: The rookie fifth-round pick is a quality return man, as evidenced by his nine return touchdowns while at Boise State. He showed some standout ability and elusiveness in that arena, returning both punts and kickoffs well in his first game as a Falcon.
Marlon Davidson: The second-year defensive lineman seems set on making an impact after a lackluster rookie year hindered by injury and illness. That was apparent on Friday night, when Davidson's presence was steadily felt on the defensive interior.
Dorian Etheridge: The rookie was all over the place defensively leading the team in tackles, including several for a loss. If he can continue solid play and stand out on special teams, he may demand consideration as a fourth interior linebacker. He's someone to keep a closer eye on moving forward.
Dean Pees: The Falcons generated quarterback pressure. Yes, it was a preseason game largely played by reserves on both sides. That won't matter to a fan base that watched the NFL's worst pass defense last year. Pees put his players in position to make plays on the quarterback, and they did so. That's a plus no matter what. Pees even brought some blitzes – don't think for a second that he tapped into the more creative chapters of his playbook – that were executed well. Several players from every level of the defense applied quarterback pressure.
That effort stood as rare bright spots in the first half bringing optimism that better is possible after last year's struggles.
A.J. McCarron: The quarterback stood out, and not in a great way. The Falcons backup quarterback got the start while most expected starters remained in street clothes. He wasn't surrounded by much experience or expertise, but the veteran signal caller struggled mightily in this one. He finished 5-of-12 passing for 36 yards and an interception. He could've been charged with another, an off-target throw ultimately reversed on replay.
He was also sacked twice while working behind a struggling offensive line – tackles Willie Beavers and Jalen Mayfield seemed to have off nights, though they weren't the only ones -- but that doesn't account for all his struggles. It was a lackluster performance no matter what context you put it in. It's still early in the preseason, but McCarron didn't inspire confidence that he's ready to take over behind center should he be called upon during the regular season.
Kyle Pitts: Only for a few minutes and only during warmups. Pitts suited up and went through pregame paces with his teammates, giving fans a sliver of hope he might play on Friday night. That was never in the cards. Preserving his health is paramount, so he remained on the sideline for this one as expected. Going through a warm-up helped the No. 4 overall pick understand the routine, but throwing him in without other top offensive players wouldn't have made much sense.
Yellow flags: And not because they're bright. Sloppiness is expected in the first preseason game, but oh, so many plays were punctuated with a penalty. That was true early on, and remained so throughout this contest.
Don't forget that the preseason is often a time for officials to emphasize certain infractions, so they're unafraid to grind on game pace with infractions. As Smith said early this week, singular infractions aren't an issue. Repeat offenders are. He wants to see how young players rebound to adversity and the adrenaline of playing a real game.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans in the first preseason game of 2021.