With the NFL preseason now completed, the Falcons––just like every other team––have decided on its 53-man roster to start the season. Unlike other teams though, the Falcons aren’t releasing their final depth chart just yet.
After the Labor Day practice, members of the media asked for updates on several key position battles that were up for grabs during both training camp and the preseason. Falcons head coach Mike Smith remained tight-lipped about where these players ranked.
“Come to the game on Sunday and see,” Smith said. “We are not going to discuss it simply because I don’t want to give a competitive advantage to our opponent.”
Smith’s response was both expected and completely out of left field at the same time. While Smith and the Falcons have typically been reserved about discussing “competitive advantage” matters (which includes data about injuries and specific X’s and O’s subjects such as the number of practice reps done by certain players), Smith would keep the media updated on where current position battles stood. Now it appears as though Smith has changed his ways.
The major position battles that have yet to be decided are the starting right guard, starting cornerbacks, punt returner and who will be Matt Ryan’s backup when the Falcons take the field in Kansas City to face the Chiefs this Sunday.
The right guard position is between Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz. Reynolds has started every preseason game this year at right guard, but the rookie Konz has been impressive. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Reynolds was on the first team unit at Monday’s practice.
With the offseason acquisition of Asante Samuel, the Falcons now have three Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks on the roster, including Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. Trying to whittle down the two best players for the base 4-3 defense is a problem most NFL coaches would love to have. Again, Smith would not say if Samuel will replace either Grimes or Robinson against the Chiefs. The AJC reports that multiple combinations of the cornerbacks were used in practice.
Starting out the preseason, cornerback Dominique Franks was considered the man who would be the punt returner for the Falcons. Now that he has been cut from the team, that spot is wide open.
Smith kept to his poker-face ways about flat out saying who might be used, but he did give several hints. Simply put, Smith said the Falcons have three potential players on the roster, with two of them having experience in returning punts. Odds are the three men Smith was referring to were Tim Toone, Harry Douglas and Brent Grimes. Toone is a rookie; Douglas spent the entire preseason in the battling Franks; and while Grimes did take punt return reps in the preseason, he wasn’t considered a threat.
Toone believes the punt returning job will be his. He did a good job of being involved in the passing game at the end of the preseason and feels he did enough to win the job of returning punts, too.
When asked about the punt return job, Toone was succinct in his answer. “I think that is one of the main reasons they kept me to be able to be back there and catch the punts for them.”
The final battle is not for a starting spot, but for the all-important backup quarterback job. Both Luke McCown and Dominique Davis remained on the active roster. This is an unusual move since the Falcons typically have just two quarterbacks on the roster and have the third relegated to the practice squad.
When asked about the move, specifically if something had happened to Matt Ryan during the week, Smith again remained noncommittal in his answer.
“I think I’ve answered that I would not answer that question based on giving someone a competitive advantage,” Smith said. “I think that Luke has the experience to be a No. 2 in this league but in terms of right now who we will go to as the No. 2 quarterback I’m not going to say.”
So for the time being, fans of the Falcons will just have to play the waiting game to finally see who ends up where.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.