The Falcons still have to trim 10 more players to get to the 53-man limit.
The list of waived players includes defensive end Nosa Eguae, fullback Maurice Hagens, cornerback Jordan Mabin, receiver Freddie Martino, safety Kimario McFadden, tight end Jacob Pedersen, offensive lineman Adam Replogle, defensive tackle Donte Rumph and linebacker Yawin Smallwood, a seventh-round pick.
Released were veterans Pat Angerer, Pat McQuistan and Josh Vaughan.
This means players such as wide receiver Bernard Reedy, tight end Mickey Shuler, outside linebacker Tyler Starr, quarterback Sean Renfree, safety Sean Baker and defensive tackle Travian Robertson remain in the mix heading into Saturday.
Sean Renfree with hopes of keeping him on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Should be interesting to watch this group develop. Whatever happens, Smith proved himself worthy of more touches with an outstanding preseason. Let's see if he is truly incorporated into the game plan, as promised.
Here is my thought: As much as it would be great to see undrafted rookie Bernard Reedy make the 53-man roster, the Falcons have to think special teams here. Weems and Roby are guys willing to throw their bodies all over the field to make a tackle or secure a block. And with as disastrous as special teams were this preseason, the Falcons need strong contributions from guys like Weems and Roby. Reedy ends up on the practice squad.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
Pascoe wins the backup role for his blocking, but Mickey Shuler put up one heck of a fight. A concussion kept Shuler out of the most important preseason game and thus, gave Pascoe a little more advantage.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
- Justin Blalock
- Joe Hawley
- Jon Asamoah
- Jake Matthews
- Lamar Holmes
- Ryan Schraeder
- Gabe Carimi
- Peter Konz
- Terren Jones
- Harland Gunn
Holmes should be set as the starting right tackle after a strong preseason. Some of Konz's mistakes in the preseason finale make me wonder if rookie James Stone might get serious consideration as insurance at center.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
- Paul Soliai
- Tyson Jackson
- Jonathan Babineaux
- Corey Peters
- Ra'Shede Hageman
- Malliciah Goodman
- Osi Umenyiora
I really, really want to put Travian Robertson on this list. Seriously. But something tells me he is going to be one of the toughest decisions in the room. We will see how it unfolds.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
It was a tough battle between rookies Starr and Jacques Smith, but Smith likely hurt his cause by being ejected for unnecessary roughness in the third preseason game.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
Still believe Shembo will grab a starting role over Bartu sooner than later. Veteran Pat Angerer doesn't make the cut.
Although Wilson hasn't been spectacular, the Falcons need experienced cornerbacks to go up against some of these high-powered, multiple-receiver offenses they will have to face. That is why McClain, Wilson, and Arenas need to be part of the defensive rotation as extra defensive backs.
Baker was added here just in case Lowery and Southward have lingering concussion issues. Both missed time this preseason because of concussions, and Lowery saw his 2013 season end prematurely because of a concussion.
As long as these three guys are just doing their jobs, everything should be fine.
"Our (player) personnel staff is going to have some sleepless nights over the next 72 hours,'' Smith said following Thursday night's preseason finale at Jacksonville. "There are going to be a lot of transactions over the next four or five days, really over the next 10 days basically into the first game of the season. In terms of the rosters, there is a cause and effect for every move that takes place. It’s a tough time as a coach and a co-team builder in making those decisions on which guys are going to be on your roster and which ones are not.''
The wide receiver position presents one of those interesting dilemmas. One of the feel-good stories of the preseason was the emergence of undrafted rookie receivers Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn. In fact, it appeared as if the last preseason game would decide which one of the two would make the 53-man roster. But Boldewijn's quest was sidetracked by a hamstring injury, meaning the guy they call "Amsterdam'' is likely to end up on the practice squad.
So the opportunity is there for the taking for Reedy, right? Not exactly.
Although Reedy impressed with his blazing speed and ability to go get the deep ball, the Falcons are destined to address a more pressing need when it comes to filling out the receiver group. Veterans Eric Weems and Courtney Roby are likely to be guys behind Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Devin Hester. Both Weems and Roby can contribute in all phases of special teams in terms of blocking and tackling, while Weems also brings a return element to the equation.
The Falcons struggled on special teams this preseason, which is why Weems was signed before the third preseason game. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong needs a couple of tough guys like Weems and Roby to help stabilize his units.
Yes, Reedy can also contribute on special teams as a return man. But the Falcons already have arguably the best return man in NFL history in record-setter Devin Hester.
So what does this all mean for Reedy? He surely will have a spot on the practice squad -- if another team doesn't scoop him up.
Being on the practice squad wouldn't be such a bad thing. Last year, receiver Darius Johnson was on the practice squad but got promoted while White dealt with ankle and hamstring issues and after Jones suffered a season-ending foot fracture. Injuries could surface at any time. And the Falcons already are without one receiver with Drew Davis (foot) missing the first six weeks of the season while on the physically unable to perform list.
Yates, who struggled miserably in his previous preseason outings, played like a savvy veteran in Thursday night's 24-14 preseason win at the Jacksonville Jaguars. While starting for a resting Matt Ryan and playing just the first half, Yates completed 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
After a series with Sean Renfree to start the game, Yates got into a rhythm behind the first-team offensive line, save for right guard Jon Asamoah. He threw a perfect deep ball to rookie receiver Freddie Martino for a 67-yard touchdown. Yates connected with running back Antone Smith for a 66-yard score, but Smith did most of the work off a screen pass.
Although Renfree seemed to be ahead to secure the backup role behind Ryan, coach Mike Smith never ruled Yates out of the equation. The Falcons traded linebacker Akeem Dent to Houston in exchange for Yates, so obviously they felt he had some ability.
With roster cuts due by Saturday afternoon, the Falcons now have a dilemma. There's always a chance they could keep three quarterbacks on the roster. Whatever happens, the Falcons seem highly unlikely to cut ties with Yates after his strong showing. And if Ryan ever were to go down in a regular-season game, the Falcons might have more faith in a player with a playoff win to his credit, such as Yates, rather than turning to Renfree.
Here are a few other observations from Thursday's game:
- Right tackle Lamar Holmes didn't do anything to lose the starting job. Once again, Holmes held his own in protection and played a big part in giving Yates time to throw. The other competitors, Gabe Carimi and Ryan Schraeder, didn't make any glaring mistakes, either. In fact, Carimi threw a heck of a block pulling from his right guard spot to clear a path for rookie Devonta Freeman's 1-yard touchdown.
- The wide receiver battle between undrafted rookies Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn never materialized. Boldewijn was in street clothes nursing a hamstring injury, meaning he'll likely end up on the practice squad, if anything else. As for Reedy, most of his opportunities Thursday came on returns, but he was unable to break loose for a big gain. Reedy is not a lock for the 53-man roster, but he's an intriguing prospect. Martino, the guy who made the big touchdown catch, was likely auditioning for another team.
- The nickelback competition has to go to Robert McClain, who made a couple nice plays on the ball during his time on the field. Josh Wilson, who hasn't made many plays, was in coverage when Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles hit rookie receiver Marqise Lee for a 57-yard touchdown. Wilson rebounded and had a nice pass breakup later on. The third competitor, Javier Arenas, was rather quiet but has made some plays in the preseason. All three seem destined to stick.
- Defensive lineman Travian Robertson again flashed, like he had throughout training camp. He had a nice tackle for a loss with the Jaguars driving in the red zone. The end result was Jacksonville settling for a field goal, which was missed. But Robertson also had a penalty earlier in the game when the Falcons were about to get off the field with a third-down stop. That was the last thing he needed.
- Robertson wasn't the only bubble player to pick up a penalty. Fullback Maurice Hagens picked up a personal foul, while receiver Jeremy Ebert was called for an illegal block on special teams.
- Rookie cornerback Ricardo Allen had a chance to make a play late in the game, but he dropped an interception. Allen, a fifth-round draft pick from Purdue, might end up being more of a practice-squad candidate due to the veterans in front of him.
- Peter Konz will make the team as the backup center, but he had some struggles Thursday. He stepped in as the starting right guard for Asamoah and picked up two penalties. He also got pushed back trying to defend a twist by the Jaguars, and the end result was a sack allowed. But Konz had been rather solid this preseason.
- Kroy Biermann had some flashes early in the game, combining with Paul Worrilow for a sack and almost picking off a pass in coverage. Biermann had been pretty quiet this preseason.
Smith, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, got into it with Titans rookie offensive lineman Taylor Lewan late in the game. The confrontation led to Smith taking a punch at Lewan, leading to an unnecessary roughness penalty and the ejection.
As captured by the camera crews for HBO's "Hard Knocks," coach Mike Smith told Smith the play was "stupid," and defensive line coach Bryan Cox told Smith he might have cost himself a roster spot.
Smith signed a one-year non-guaranteed contract worth $420,000. He received a $5,000 signing bonus.
A number of players, including Smith, are fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, with final cuts due by Saturday afternoon. Those players should get plenty of opportunities in tonight's preseason finale at Jacksonville.
The Falcons like Smith's toughness, when it doesn't cross the line. If Smith makes the active roster, he will earn a little more than $24,000 per week. If he winds up on the practice squad, he will make $6,300 per week.
Here are a few things to watch:
1. The right tackle: The Falcons are set at left tackle with rookie Jake Matthews sliding over from the right side. Now it's a matter of solidifying the right tackle spot going into the Sept. 7 season opener against the New Orleans Saints. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said the competition is "wide open" with Lamar Holmes, Gabe Carimi, and Ryan Schraeder. Holmes has the edge now just based on experience from last year. Carimi, who just returned from an ankle injury, would appear to be the top competitor. Tice said Carimi was in line to be the swing tackle before Sam Baker went down with a season-ending knee injury. Schraeder is mean and nasty, but he's the dark horse. Let's see which guy is the most sound with his technique.
2. Fast track: During an appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks,'' general manager Thomas Dimitroff seemed to indicate the team had a decision to make between undrafted rookie receivers Geraldo Boldewijn and Bernard Reedy. Well, the decision might have been made for the Falcons as Boldewijn apparently is dealing with a hamstring injury. His playing status for Thursday remains unclear. If the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boldewijn plays through the pain and still makes plays, that might speak volumes about his value. But no one can discount what Reedy brings to the equation with his blazing speed and ability to go get the deep ball. We'll see if Boldewijn's hamstring issue gives Reedy the advantage.
3. Bubble watch: There will be plenty of other guys fighting for jobs Thursday. Some of the names worth monitoring include defensive tackle Travian Robertson, who has been solid throughout the preseason but might be caught in a numbers' game, and nickelback Josh Wilson, who started off strong during training camp but hasn't made many plays as of late while competing against Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. The backup tight end role seems to be down to the wire between Bear Pascoe and Mickey Shuler, although Shuler suffered a setback in missing the last game with a concussion. Coach Mike Smith contends the backup quarterback spot remains up for grabs, but it seems like T.J. Yates would have to pitch a perfect game to overtake Sean Renfree. We'll see.
The quickness of hands the 6-foot-7-inch, 300-pound Schraeder displayed that day was no accident. He worked on it earlier this year.
"It was tough, man. I did it more for the handwork, not to be able to fight people."
Schraeder has a fight on his hands Thursday night as the Falcons play their final exhibition game at Jacksonville. He is one of three candidates for the right tackle spot vacated by rookie Jake Matthews, who moved over to left tackle after Sam Baker suffered a season-ending knee injury. Schraeder is the dark horse in a battle with Lamar Holmes and Gabe Carimi.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice spoke on the right tackle battle earlier this week. He likes Schraeder's intelligence, toughness and athleticism, but says Schraeder needs to be more consistent with his technique.
Schraeder, who started four games at right tackle last season, just wants an opportunity.
"I'm just going to do what they tell me to do, man,'' Schraeder said. "All I know is to control what I can control, get better, and fix the mistakes. I feel pretty confident I can play in this league. It's just a matter of performing well.
"There are going to be little stupid things. The best thing to do it try to minimize that, just stay focused on my job, and just make sure my guy doesn't make the play. Then, good things will happen."
Complete Falcons season preview.
Some of the results of Cox's tough love were evident during last Saturday's preseason game against Tennessee. Hageman showed flashes of his unique ability with his first sack and a nice stuff on a run play from his defensive line spot. He played 45 defensive snaps, second on the team among defensive players behind Javier Arenas (46).
"I think he experienced something that he never experienced in terms of the strain on his body," coach Mike Smith said of Hageman. "He had a lot of plays, and plays in the NFL are different than plays in college football. The strain on your body is completely different.
"Like the way that Ra'Shede has come along all through training camp. You see his strength. He's a big, strong man. And he's going to be a guy that's help us in the rotation of our defensive line."
Hageman (6-6, 318) assessed his performance in the 24-17 loss.
"Really, it was the fatigue that got me, man," he said. "But I had to keep on pushing for it. I made a sack for my team and there was a little celebration. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning."
It's been well-documented how frustrated Hageman tends to get with himself. Such was caught on camera during "Hard Knocks" when Hageman pulled his shirt over his head as Cox criticized his play in the film room.
"I've just got to keep on moving forward," Hageman said. "Can't really get mad at the play I don't make. I've obviously got to learn from them. I have to watch and critique the film to get better. But overall, I'm progressing."
And guess what? It wasn't defensive line coach Bryan Cox this time.
Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong displayed his true character as the show began with him going off on his units. Remember, the Falcons had both a punt and kicked blocked in the second preseason game at Houston.
Armstrong directed his fury toward three players in particular: Malliciah Goodman, Jacques Smith, and Ra'Shede Hageman.
"Some of you guys think you're better than it; you think you're above it," Armstrong said to the group about special teams. "Who do you think you are? The game don't mean enough to you. And that's very f---ing apparent. You better wake up and get your pride in the game.
"Come in here and you're going to go out there and play like s---. Now, the s--- was coached the right way. I don't want to hear any excuses. Selfish ass."
ESPN.com sent a text to one of the players in the room who appeared to be shook up by Armstrong's words. The players responded, "I was."
Here's a few more highlights from the show:
- Cox continues to ride Hageman hard and doesn't think the rookie is in good enough shape at this point. That's why Cox had Hageman out running sprints -- or at least trying to run -- after a practice. Hagemen didn't take too kindly to the criticism, but he responded with inspired play in the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.
- After rookie outside linebacker Smith got ejected for throwing a shot at Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, Cox was the first to tell Smith what his fate could be. "You might have just cost yourself a spot on the roster," Cox said as Smith exited the field.
- Center Joe Hawley is being called Joe "Brawley" after getting into a fight in three consecutive weeks, starting with the rookie Smith, then the rookie Hageman, and then during a joint practice with the Titans during which he was ejected. So, it's easy understand why Hawley uses pottery as a calming mechanism.
- Receivers coach Terry Robiskie genuinely wasn't happy with the way star receiver Julio Jones and Roddy White played in the second exhibition against Houston. He thought they were trying to be too cute.
- Speaking of receivers, Devin Hester's handed out one of his Chicago Bears jerseys to fellow receiver Harry Douglas. That might be worth quite a bit of money if Hester, arguably the greatest return man of all time, makes the Hall of Fame.
- During one day of practice, coach Mike Smith moved the session indoors due to inclement weather. As the storm continued, the power went out inside the indoor practice field, forcing practice to end prematurely.
- During the first roster cutdown, everyone seemed to take the news well except rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews from Cornell, who obviously struggled picking up the verbiage of the offense. On the flipside, veteran safety Tyrell Johnson handled his release with such class, complimenting the Falcons for being a family-type atmosphere where people actually care about the players. "It's not like that at other places. ... You're just a body somewhere else."
- Rookie running back Devonta Freeman got a pedicure, and actually liked it.
- The other coaches admire how defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is able to stay in shape at age 55 by sweating it out on an exercise bike. Nolan actually was spotted doing some serious stretching before Tuesday's practice.
The battle between Robert McClain, Javier Arenas, and Josh Wilson remains unsettled, according to coach Mike Smith. But McClain, also a standout on special teams, would appear to have a decisive advantage.
Whatever the case, the trio will get one more chance to compete in Thursday night's final preseason game at Jacksonville.
Smith refused to reveal which of the three would be up first in the nickel spot.
"I don't really want to talk about who's going to get the first look, but all three are going to play," Smith said. "I don't think you can read into who gets the first snaps. It's going to be a matter of guys getting an opportunity to go out there and compete. We will put them in much quicker in the ball game then we have in the previous weeks. They won't take a whole half. It will be rotations by series."
- Right guard Jon Asamoah, who sat out Monday's practice with a slight limp, was back on the field with a helmet for Tuesday's session. It's unclear how much work Asamoah did because media is now only allowed to view the start of practice. He held the heavy bag for his fellow offensive linemen at the start of individual drills as they worked on their hands. Smith said Asamoah's apparent leg injury wasn't serious, so it was good news to see him back on the field immediately.
- Speaking of offensive lineman, Gabe Carimi had his second day of practice coming off an ankle injury and is poised to make a final push for the starting right tackle spot. "Gabe will play in the game," Smith said of the final exhibition. "He's had an opportunity to practice. We need to get an evaluation. Gabe, unfortunately, was injured in the scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans and missed basically all of the preseason. And we need to get a good evaluation. He'll get a look at multiple positions, if we can."
- Extra points: Rookie safety Dez Southward remained sidelined at practice as he continued to go through the concussion protocol. ... Running back Steven Jackson, who returned from a left hamstring injury, practiced for the second consecutive day. ... Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo was not on the field for the start of practice, but he emerged just before the start of individual drills. ... Former Falcons backup quarterback Dominique Davis signed with the Tennessee Titans.
For the first time, all Falcons season-ticket holders will be eligible to get a cheerleader visit at their seat.
It's part of the team's "Memories" program, which seeks to give the team's most loyal fans experiences that they will remember.
Fans can use memory points, which they are awarded based on longevity of being a season-ticket holder, to stand on the field during the player intros, get a personal visit from the team mascot or receive an autograph from a Falcons player.
But it's the cheerleader visit that has been getting the most attention.
"It's not like you can order them to your seat after you've had eight beers," said Jim Smith, the team's chief marketing and revenue officer.
The experiences, which can be found on the Falcons app, open up on the Thursday afternoon before a home game and are reserved by the end of the day.
There are more slots for having a message posted on the video board and holding the flag on the field than getting the cheerleader visit, which is reserved for 16 fans per game.
After the team confirms that the fan who ordered the experience is in his or her seat, the cheerleaders -- escorted by security -- arrive to take a photo.
"If things don't look right, we're not going there," Smith said. "But often, we've seen this is ordered by families whose daughters cheer and want to meet the girls."
Last year, the team allowed fans to reserve a cheerleader visit, though it was available to just roughly 5,000 season-ticket holders. This year, the team has decided to open up the whole stadium to the opportunity.
Teams frequently sell the experiences that the Falcons are giving away, something Smith said he wanted to be simply a reward for loyalty.
Matthews got whistled for a false start and a hold in the first quarter of Saturday’s 24-17 exhibition loss to Tennessee. Then in the second quarter, he was beat on an inside move that led to Matt Ryan getting sacked.
"He jumped the guy, and he brought his feet together," Tice said of Matthews. "He got out of balance. He rushed it."
The line, as a whole, protected Matt Ryan well, which pleased Tice. But the run blocking wasn't up to par, and Matthews contributed to those woes.
"He had a couple of brain farts out there thinking," Tice said. "He had some growing pains, some learning things. He had a couple mistakes. He had a mental and, obviously, he gave up a sack.
"He didn't struggle, but he had more bad plays than he had on the right side. And he’s in there for three practices. We figured that it wasn't going to be smooth sailing, especially against a couple of good players."
Tice sees no reason to panic, however.
"He'll be better [today]," Tice said. "And he'll be better in the game this week, if we play him. And we'll go from there."
Everything seemed so simple for Matthews as he dominated at right tackle throughout training camp. Seeing him stonewall guys in practice became a regular occurrence. He even performed well against Houston pass-rush demon J.J. Watt in joint practices against the Texans.
"I thought the first time through, J.J. got him," Tice said. "I thought the second time through, it was a tie. And I thought in the team stuff, I thought Jake fared very well. So that’s a good thing. You want to go against the best players."
Then starting left tackle Sam Baker goes down with a season-ending knee injury in the game against the Texans, immediately forcing Matthews to the left side. Although he played left tackle last year at Texas A&M, even Matthews admitted it would take some time to readjust.
The biggest thing Tice rode Matthews about at right tackle was improving his right hand. That's no longer the case.
"His right hand got fixed when he moved to the left side," Tice said. "I told him, 'If I knew that was going to be fixed when I moved you to the left side, I would have moved you sooner.’ He said, `I would never do that to Sam Baker.'"
"His hands are better on the left side, much better than on the right side. He probably has more confidence."
Now, it'’s just a matter of Matthews getting into a left tackle routine.
"He's been in a right-hand stance since April or whenever the hell I got him -- May," Tice said. "He's done everything at right tackle since the first week. He didn't miss a snap with the ones. He’s probably got the most plays of any lineman on our team in the offseason and in training camp. And then all of sudden, poof, you’re a left tackle. It’s going take a little bit of time.
"He'll get all that cleaned up. It's just going to take a little time. It’s not going to happen by Jacksonville, either. We don’t expect it to."
How Matthews progresses as a run blocker might be the aspect worth monitoring the most moving forward.
"Like many young players [who] are coming into this league from a passing program, he's got a long way to go with his run blocking," Tice said. "When he played for Mike Sherman, he was in a pro-style offense. So he’s done it all before. Then [Texas A&M] came in with the new staff and went to the passing stuff and the two-point stance. He's just got to continue to work on it and feel comfortable in his stance."