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Atlanta Falcons

Camp Thoughts With Charles McDonald

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Aaron is joined by SB Nation’s Charles McDonald to discuss Julio Jones and the Falcons 2018 season expectations. Charles shares his excitement over the potential growth of Eric Saubert, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal before providing a voice of reason about Julio’s holdout and Steve Sarkisian’s progress going into 2018.

Charles is on twitter: @FourVerts.

Aaron has covered the Atlanta Falcons since 2006 on his website Falcfans.com. He is the host of the Locked on Falcons podcast and co-host of Falcons Central Radio podcast at Pro Football Central.com. He’s also contributed in the past for draft website, The Huddle Report, and been a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. He currently resides in North Carolina, is an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh and has a deep abiding passion for chicken wings.

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Atlanta Falcons

Roster Battle Stock Report – Preseason Week 2 Update

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Aug 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) runs against Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brian Poole (34) after a catch during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Now that two Atlanta Falcons preseason games are in the books, let’s look at where seven roster battles stand today.

If you missed last week update following the team’s preseason loss to the New York Jets, you can click here.

Fullback

Ricky Ortiz vs. Luke McNitt

Ortiz took significant surge forward with another solid performance against the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday. While McNitt started the game and saw reps on the first two plays, he only played a single snap afterward. Ortiz got the bulk of the work at fullback and it is clearly his job to lose. He did a good job hitting his blocking assignments both against the run and pass and even caught a pair of passes.

Stock Report: Ortiz is pulling away from McNitt. Right now, the only thing seemingly stopping Ortiz from winning the job would be an injury. Making this a less-than-promising indicator:

Backup Tight End

Logan Paulsen vs. Eric Saubert

It’s hard to tell if this is really a competition at this point. Paulsen actually started the game ahead of Austin Hooper and continued to see all the reps when the team employed two tight ends with starting quarterback Matt Ryan on the field. Saubert only entered the game when backup Matt Schaub took over in the second quarter. Saubert made a big catch on a 24-yard gain thanks to a broken coverage on the Chiefs, but outside of that play, contributed little in the passing game.

It appears Paulsen has solidified his role as the blocking tight end to supplement Hooper. But there are still opportunities for Saubert to make waves over the next two weeks.

Stock Report: Paulsen appears ahead as the team prefers the veteran’s experience. Saubert has made strides as a blocker, but his potential as a pass-catcher has been rarely featured this summer.

Starting Right Guard

Brandon Fusco vs. Wes Schweitzer

This position battle wasn’t mentioned in last week’s stock report breakdown but is worth focusing on this week. Fusco got the start against the Chiefs and played well. The Falcons made efforts to run behind him, including a big gain by Tevin Coleman in which Fusco got a nice pancake block against a defender. Schweitzer, who started last week versus the Jets, too had a solid performance working with the second-string offense against the Chiefs on Friday.

But this has always seemed to be Fusco’s job to lose, and right now he appears poised to win the gig. The fact that he’s poised to start next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the “dress rehearsal” game will have a significant edge on remaining the starter for Week 1:

Stock Report: Fusco’s performance against the Chiefs, coupled with his salary and experience should give him the edge right now. But Schweitzer is not going to lie down and has a chance to snatch the job back depending on both their performances against the Jags.

Swing Tackle

Ty Sambrailo vs. Austin Pasztor

Sambrailo graded out well according to Pro Football Focus but had a couple of breakdowns in the passing game while working as the backup to Jake Matthews at left tackle. Pasztor didn’t see action until the fourth quarter as the third-string right tackle. The depth chart alone strongly indicates that Sambrailo is well ahead in this battle.

Stock Report: Sambrailo likely has the edge, but Pasztor could potentially make up some ground with a good week against the Jaguars.

Weakside Linebacker

Duke Riley vs. Foye Oluokun

After an abysmal performance versus the Jets, Riley bounced back with a better week. His tackling was much improved and played with better speed and effort, although there were still instances where his inexperience and lack of instincts showed. He’s definitely a work in progress.

Oluokun had a solid performance against the Chiefs but did not stand out in the same ways as he did versus the Jets. If neither player emerges over the next few weeks, the Falcons still could turn to tried and true veteran Kemal Ishmael, who is well-versed at playing all three linebacker spots.

Stock Report: Riley will need to continue to have to show growth over the course of the next two weeks to remain the starter, but right now sits slightly ahead of Oluokun. However, Ishmael is a good insurance policy to have in case neither young linebacker outright earns the coaching staff’s trust by the start of the regular season.

Third Cornerback

Brian Poole vs. Isaiah Oliver

It certainly was not a very good evening for Oliver, who got torched on a touchdown pass to Gehrig Dieter after whiffing on a jam at the line. It wasn’t the only instance where Oliver was in a poor position in coverage but thankfully did not give up any more completions thanks to inaccurate throws. He also missed a tackle. Right now, the Falcons second-round pick looks like a work in progress that they’ll have to bring along more slowly than my anticipated.

Poole meanwhile had a very impressive game, being very active in run support, displaying impressive closing speed on a big hit on speedy Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill to prevent an early third-down conversion.

Stock Report: Barring injury or a complete reversal of fortunes next week against the Jaguars, this battle appears to be over with Poole almost certain to start the opening game at nickel cornerback.

Return Specialist

Marvin Hall vs. Isaiah Oliver vs. Ito Smith vs. Calvin Ridley vs. Justin Hardy vs. Reggie Davis

Ridley, Smith and Hall each got opportunities to return kickoffs, with only Ridley impressing on a 34-yard gain on the opening play. Smith and Hall did not the surest of hands when fielding kickoffs. It remains a question mark whether the Falcons will utilize their dynamic rookie on kickoffs and likely are hoping someone else emerges over the course of the next two weeks to force their hand.

Hardy had a nice 19-yard punt return that was nullified thanks to a penalty. Neither Hall nor Oliver got much to do on their single attempts in the second half.

Reggie Davis could be an “x-factor” in this competition given how productive he was in the return game last summer. He has yet to get an opportunity.

Given the likelihood that every player within this competition with the possible exception of Ridley could continue to get work in the team’s preseason finale in two weeks, it’s likely that this battle won’t be settled until the very end of the summer.

Stock Report: Ridley, Hardy and/or Hall seem to be the best bets at this point, but this position battle remains a toss-up at this point.

Next week, there will be another update on these positional battles after the Falcons take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Atlanta Falcons

Preseason Week 2 Q&A

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Aug 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat (94) look at the sideline before a play against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron reviews the Falcons vs. Chiefs preseason action from last week and answers listeners questions. He discusses:

  • Damontae Kazee pushing Ricardo Allen as a starter
  • Standout undrafted rookies like Anthony Winbush and Jon Celestin
  • Grady Jarrett’s Pro Bowl potential
  • Duke Riley’s progress
  • Marvin Hall’s role
  • Steve Sarkisian’s play-calling
  • How Calvin Ridley matches up with corners in the NFC South
  • Making adjustments to his practice squad and 53-man roster projections from earlier this summer.
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Atlanta Falcons

Rapid Reaction to Preseason Loss to Chiefs

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Aug 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) reacts after catching a touchdown pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron reacts to the Falcons 28-14 loss to the Chiefs in their second preseason game. He goes position by position, breaking down the standouts and struggles including Calvin Ridley’s breakout performance and potential to impact as a returner, the battles at tight end and right guard, the improvement from Duke Riley and thoughts on the new helmet penalty.

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