In the Atlanta Falcons final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, there will be a few things to look for, but most importantly, I think there are things we should expect to not see.
I wouldn’t count on seeing any skill players early, and no linemen with any potential injury risks. There isn’t a play in a game of football where an injury couldn’t happen, but removing the player from the chaos of game situations in meaningless games is the best way to prevent injuries. Matt Ryan shouldn’t play at all, but if he does, it will only be for one series to practice one particular thing. If Ryan is in there, I would expect the other skill players to be in there, but only while Ryan is still in.
The offensive linemen need as much practice as possible, especially those in position battles or who could be important backups. Sam Baker is the starting left tackle, but he has a huge injury history. He can’t be exposed to the risk of getting injured in the preseason; he is just that crucial to the protection of Ryan. Expect Lamar Holmes to get most of the playing time.
Right guard is the other position to keep an eye on. Garrett Reynolds has gotten most of the time with the first team throughout preseason and training camp, and he has been playing a whole lot better than he did in 2011. However, Peter Konz got some time with the first team against the Dolphins, and he still stands a chance at winning the right guard job to begin the season. Either the Falcons are making Konz really earn his spot, or he has been underwhelming compared to what he was drafted to do. Personally, I hope it is the former, and that Konz really solidified that line from the right guard spot. We need a push from there, and Konz ought to be the guy to accomplish that.
At defensive end there is a minor battle for the final spot on the roster. Will the Falcons keep 2011 7th-round pick Cliff Matthews, or will they keep 2012 5th-round pick Jonathan Massaquoi on the active roster? I don’t really know if either of them has been particularly impressive. That decision would probably be made after the Jacksonville game based on their play. I’m not sure it matters too much for just this season, but down the road one of these players could become a valuable rotation player.
Keep an eye on these things amongst others during the game. They are minor things, but they are going to be crucial for the upcoming season. Maintaining the health of the entire roster through the preseason is vital to success, as is having the best player take the roster spot.