Falcons, Jaguars both seek first preseason win

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith has some big decisions to make in the next few days with rosters needing to be cut down to 75 players by Tuesday.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith has some big decisions to make in the next few days with rosters needing to be cut down to 75 players by Tuesday.

FLOWERY BRANCH When the Atlanta Falcons host the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night at the Georgia Dome (7:30 p.m.), a preseason trend will reverse for one of the teams. Both Atlanta and Jacksonville are winless in three preseason games this year and wouldn’t mind entering regular-season play next week on a winning streak.

If it’s Atlanta that earns the victory, it won’t be because of the normal cast of characters. In fact, there’s likely going to be a large group of starters that never step on the field Thursday.

Head coach Mike Smith said Tuesday that while the coaching staff never makes blanket statements like the starters will sit out during the fourth game of the preseason, look to the recent past as an indicator of who will play and how much.

“Our plan is to do just what we’ve done in the past,” said Smith. “We’re not going to change how we’ve done it. We’re going to play the game this week, in terms of our substitutions, just like we have the last two or three years.”

Over the past three seasons the Falcons have averaged 17 players (mostly starters) that were not active for the fourth preseason game. Quarterback Matt Ryan hasn’t played in the Falcons’ final preseason game over that span. Neither did running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham, tight end Tony Gonzalez or wide receiver Roddy White.

Turner and Abraham are no longer in Atlanta, but expect Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora to be given the same rest treatment.

The Falcons cut their roster down to 75 players earlier in the week, but there are still enough bodies to get the game, and the preseason, finished. In fact there are still some jobs up for grabs.

“There’s a handful of guys that I think are competing for a smaller handful of spots,” said Smith. “I think it’s important to see how they finish up in this fourth preseason game.”

The Falcons must cut from 75 players down to 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday. This final game against the Jaguars could be a determining factor in a number of roster spots. Smith’s “handful of guys” could play their way onto the roster or off, depending on what happens Thursday.

Five Things to Watch

  1. The Brian Banks story is truly amazing. To make it to the NFL after losing 10 years of his life to prison and parole is a monumental success story. However, it may all be coming to end Saturday when the Falcons cut down to 53 players. Thursday could be Banks’ last moment in a Falcons jersey, and that alone should be incentive to watch.
  2. A lot of the starters are not going to play, but potential rookie starters Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant should be out there at cornerback. After a rough start to camp (Trufant) and a rough outing last week (Alford), look for rebound games from the duo so they can enter the regular season on a high note.
  3. Most of the linebacker spots on the 53-man roster are locked down, but there may be some wiggle room. Between the younger guys to the undrafted rookies in this unit, there is some talent and huge upside on the roster. Guys like Pat Schiller, Paul Worrilow and Robert James, any one of them could play their way onto or off this final roster.
  4. Head coach Mike Smith mentioned Tuesday that Drew Davis and Kevin Cone had a pretty good handle on the fourth and fifth wide receiver roster spots. The team usually carries just five receivers into the season, but a great showing by some of the guys below Davis and Cone could force Atlanta to carry six, or at least ink invitations back next week as practice squad receivers.
  5. Drafted rookie defensive ends Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga haven’t shown as much on the field as many expected through the preseason. They should get a lot of reps on Thursday and need to show the coaching staff they have upside. Atlanta is always looking for players that can rush the quarterback.