Welcome back football season, oh how the NFL has been missed. The Cardinals and Cowboys kicked things off in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3, then the Texans played the Panthers Wednesday.

Now it’s Falcons football time.

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Atlanta will play Miami at 7 p.m. Thursday. You can tune in to the Bud Light Countdown to Kickoff with Mike Conti and Randy McMichael at 5 p.m. here on 92-9 the Game, and then stay put for Wes Durham, Dave Archer and John Michaels with the call from Hard Rock Stadium at 7 p.m.

When the game gets going, here are a few items I’ll be keeping a close eye on:

The RG Battle
Dan Quinn has repeatedly said that the battle for the right guard position won’t be won until after he’s seen reps in preseason games. And I doubt it’ll be just one game.

Ben Garland will get the start Thursday against Miami, but I don’t see that as an indication he’s ahead. He and Wes Schweitzer have been alternating reps with the first team very evenly. I bet Schweitzer starts Game 2 versus Pittsburgh at right guard with Garland as the backup.

From what I’ve seen through two weeks or so of training camp sessions, Schweitzer looks to be better at pass protection. Garland has an advantage in the run game. Schweitzer looks more fluid and athletic; Garland is more of a mauler. How that plays out in terms of who will eventually start… that’s up to Quinn and company. But maybe we’ll see something against the Dolphins that stands out.

Can Little-Known Camp Stars Continue To Show Off?
Everyone knows Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, and boy have Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman been offensive MVPs thus far in camp. But those aren’t the only names we’ve seen stand out.

Receivers Josh Magee and Marvin Hall have been tremendous in camp, each running with the first team at times and Hall doing so somewhat regularly (at least for a guy not named Jones, Sanu, Taylor Gabriel or Justin Hardy). Can those two continue to shine in the passing game?

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Defensive end J’Terius Jones has been a beast at times rushing the passer. It seems like every other practice (maybe a bit more frequently) or so, I look down to verify who No. 55 is, where he’s from and stuff like that. It’s ingrained in my memory now: He’s an undrafted rookie from Miami of Ohio who had 22 sacks over three seasons in college. And he’s a local kid from Miller Grove High School.

If Jones gets after the quarterback in Miami, if on TV he forces people to look down at a roster and ask “Who’s No. 55?” then he’ll do a lot to bolster his roster chances.

How Much Will the Drafted Rookies Play?
We know that first-rounder Takk McKinley will be a game-time decision. If he does play, will he be limited (probably)? What kinds of reps will he get (likely just pass-rush snaps)?

Linebacker Duke Riley has shown off his speed during camp and he’s quickly learning the system. What can he show? Side question: Will he and Deion Jones hit the field at the same time?

Demontae Kazee has also spent his fair share of time with the first team in the defensive backfield. He’s moving to free safety and has really looked comfortable and able. Will he show off any of those ball-hawking skills that netted him 15 interceptions over his final two seasons at San Diego State?

Much has been made of the battle at right guard. But Sean Harlow wants to show that he can make the 53-man roster. Thursday will go a long way toward starting that conversation with coaches.

Brian Hill and Eric Saubert have both shown flashes of picking up the pro game well. But under the lights in the NFL, that’s a different story. Will either of them be fazed?

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Other Thoughts

  • We know Jalen Collins will play, but how much?
  • Which cornerback will benefit from Collins’ eventual 10-game suspension? I’m thinking C.J. Goodwin Akeem King and Deji Olatoye are the front-runners as the nickel package should consist of Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Brian Poole.
  • I’m going to watch De’Vondre Campbell in pass-rush situations to see how many different moves he utilizes on blockers. The more the better as he continues to grow as an attack-the-quarterback linebacker.
  • The Falcons’ defensive line is as deep as I’ve ever seen it (I’ve been covering the team since 2009). How will the guys up front be packaged together?
  • Will the team’s eventual swing tackle show up against Miami?