Listed as the nickel back is veteran Josh Wilson, who competed with Robert McClain and Javier Arenas for the role during the preseason. McClain seemed to have the advantage and stood out during the final preseason game at Jacksonville.
The Falcons surely will utilize all three players, especially against offenses such as what Drew Brees and the Saints will bring to the Georgia Dome. McClain actually made some nice plays the last time the teams met, particularly a stop in the red zone.
The depth chart also didn't see a specific backup quarterback named behind Matt Ryan, as the Falcons designated both T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree as co-backups.
Along the offensive line, Gabe Carimi is the backup right tackle and right guard behind Lamar Holmes and Jon Asamoah, respectively. Ryan Schraeder is the backup left tackle to rookie Jake Matthews, and rookie James Stone is the backup left guard to Justin Blalock.
Also of note, rookie running back Devonta Freeman remains fourth on the depth chart behind Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Antone Smith, while rookie linebacker Prince Shembo remains behind Joplo Bartu at inside linebacker.
ESPN.com Atlanta Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: New Orleans Saints
The game is sure to be competitive, as is typical of this rivalry. It will be hard for the Falcons to outscore Drew Brees. Prediction: Loss
Week 2: at Cincinnati Bengals
This will be a very tough road test for a team still trying to figure out its defensive identity. Contending with top receiver A.J. Green won't be easy. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One of the best games for the Falcons last season was their home contest against the Bucs. New Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith won't make it easy, but Matt Ryan and his weapons should have a decisive edge over Josh McCown and his arsenal. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Minnesota Vikings
Week 5: at New York Giants
Week 6: Chicago Bears
The debate in this game will be about which team has the better receiver combo between Julio Jones-Roddy White and Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery. Give Jones and White the edge at home, with ex-Bear Devin Hester sprinkled in. Prediction: Win
Week 7: at Baltimore Ravens
All good streaks have to come to an end. The Falcons will have a tough time containing Ray Rice. Prediction: Loss
Week 8: Detroit Lions
This game in London could go either way. The Lions seem destined to hurt themselves with foolish penalties. Prediction: Win
Week 10: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 11: at Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton still has some maturing to do and doesn't have a strong offensive line in front of him. If the Falcons can just contain the run, they'll be fine. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Cleveland Browns
The sideshow might be at full tilt if Johnny Manziel is starting at quarterback by this time. The Brown still stink. Prediction: Win
Week 13: Arizona Cardinals
The Falcons got dismantled in the desert last season, so they know what to expect this time. Will former Falcon John Abraham be in the Cardinals' lineup? Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Green Bay Packers
Everyone saw how miserable the Falcons were playing in the cold and snow at Lambeau last season. It will only get worse with Aaron Rodgers back in the lineup this time. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers
The fear factor seems to be gone when it comes to playing the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, however, is capable of executing big plays and making the Falcons' defense miserable. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: at New Orleans Saints
Unless the Saints have wrapped up the division and the No. 1 seed and intend to rest their players, the Falcons won't win this game. However, it will be close, again. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Carolina Panthers
The Falcons ended last season with a pathetic performance against the Panthers, allowing Ryan to be sacked nine times. It won't happen again, even if they're just playing for pride. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 9-7
"Just from what we were going over, they are really big, athletic guys," Matthews said of the Saints' front seven. "They do a really good job mixing up their pressures and stunts. So, I think it's going to be really good challenge for us up front. I think we're going to be ready for it."
Matthews is likely to see plenty of Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan, two edge-rushers capable of coming from either side. The duo combined for 24.5 sacks last season. And, as Matthews stated, the Saints definitely like to run their share of twists, as they did in last season's game at the Georgia Dome.
Holding down the Saints' pass rush can't all be on Matthews, of course. The Falcons need a group effort, and especially need Lamar Holmes to hold his own at the right tackle spot. Having veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard should help Holmes' cause.
Matthews appreciates how the line gelled during the preseason, when Ryan was sacked just twice while attempting 37 passes.
"It's been real well," he said. "Obviously, losing a guy like Sam Baker is something that hurt us a little bit. But I think we've bounced back well. And coach (Mike) Tice has done a really good job of keeping us together and getting a good game plan ready for us. I think we're on the right track."
Peters didn't play in any preseason games as he continued to recover from last December's Achilles tear, suffered against the San Francisco 49ers. Peters expressed hope about being able to return to game action this week, but coach Mike Smith wouldn't commit to such just yet.
"We're not set on what we're going to do with Corey,'' Smith said. "Corey is going to have really his second padded practice on Wednesday. But he's done everything that we've asked. And we'll make a determination on Wednesday after he's had a really full, full workload this week.''
Peters was a key figure in two close games against the Saints last season with eight tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit. The Falcons lost both games by scores of 23-17 and 17-13.
Both right guard Jon Asamoah and rookie safety Dez Southward practiced Monday coming off injuries. Asamoah had been slowed by a minor groin injury, while Southward was cleared coming off a concussion.
"We're going to be in pretty good shape,'' Smith said of the health of his team. "The injury report will come out on Wednesday. But we had good participation in practice today. I'll say that.''
The first part of practice was devoted to special teams and newly added linebacker Nate Stupar got plenty of work. He showed the ability to hustle down the field and make a play, which is why the Falcons claimed him off waivers from Jacksonville.
"He's an inside linebacker that has a lot of special-teams experience,'' Smith said. "And we felt like he was going to give us a better 53-man roster and gives us a little bit more flexibility.''
Veteran defensive lineman Cliff Matthews was another player doing a lot of running up and down on special teams, which speaks to why he was viewed as a necessary part of the 53-man roster.
During that contest, Moore found himself matched with Saints game-changing tight end Jimmy Graham near the sideline. Graham ran his route outside then quickly broke back inside to get down the field for a 44-yard touchdown reception from Drew Brees.
"When you become too physical on a play that they run all game, they wait for that right moment for you to be physical again and they give you the double move,'' Moore said Monday. "It's called game-planning.
Collectively, the Falcons have to find a way to be better at defending arguably the best tight end in the game as the Saints come to town Sunday. Graham had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in last year's game at the Georgia Dome. In New Orleans' two wins against Atlanta last season, Graham had nine catches for 145 yards and two scores. He has 500 career receiving yards and seven touchdowns against the Falcons through four NFL seasons.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham, a former basketball player in college, presents matchup nightmares because of his size, speed and leaping ability.
"It comes down to executing your play and the stuff you've got going on,'' Moore said of containing Graham. "You can't too much worry about Jimmy Graham. He's explosive. He does things other tight ends don't do. But at the same time, you worry about what you've got to do. Your technique should allow you to put you over an edge over what he's got going, if you execute.''
It will be interesting to see what type of coverages defensive coordinator Mike Nolan utilizes against Graham, particularly with having to contend with talented receivers such as Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks. No one on the Falcons roster is truly capable of matching up with Graham, one on one, although promising rookie linebacker Prince Shembo could be an intriguing option for that role in time.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant didn't shy away from going head to head with Graham.
"Just how they line up, I'm definitely going to encounter him,'' Trufant said. "I'm going to just be physical, just like any other matchup. I'm going to believe in what I'm doing and have confidence to go compete.
"I don't put nobody on a serious pedestal like that. Everybody breathes the same air. We all compete. He's a great player. We just have to bring it to him, pretty much.''
One aspect all the Falcons defenders have to be conscious of when it comes to defending Graham is the league's emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.
"You can't think about it too much because then it will slow you down and you'll end up giving up a big play,'' Trufant said. "Obviously, you're aware of it. But we'll see. ... We play the game. We can't focus on how they're calling it too much.''
Speaking strictly from an offensive perspective, offensive line coach Mike Tice certainly doesn't expect his guys to back down against the NFC South favorite New Orleans Saints. In other words, you won't see a repeat of last season's Week 1 matchup, when a sliding Matt Ryan was hit by Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro without any of the Falcons' linemen really getting in Vaccaro's face afterward.
"The one thing they won't be, they won't be punked over by anybody," Tice said of his line. "That's encouraging."
Whether or not the offensive line keeps Ryan upright is another story. Last season, the Falcons quarterback was sacked eight times and was hit 16 times in two losses to the Saints. For the season, Ryan was pressured on a league-high 204 of his dropbacks, contributing to him being sacked a career-high 44 times.
This preseason, Ryan was sacked twice while playing 79 snaps behind a rebuilt offensive line that now includes rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews at left tackle and veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard to go with holdovers Hawley, Holmes and left guard Justin Blalock.
Although the Falcons still have significant strides to make with their run blocking, Tice was extremely pleased with the pass protection during the preseason.
"I'd lose a lot of sleep if we were getting our ass kicked in pass protection, but we're not," Tice said. "We're not going to be a run-first team, so we'll get the runs cleaned up. We've just got to keep protecting that quarterback."
The Saints will pose quite a challenge for Matthews and Holmes off the edges with Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, a duo that combined for 24.5 sacks last season. But what really hurt the Falcons in the last meeting between the teams was the inside pressure from Akiem Hicks, who destroyed then-Falcons right guard Garrett Reynolds.
Hicks won't be able to push around Asamoah, unless a minor groin injury resurfaces and affects Asamoah's play. The backup at right guard is Gabe Carimi, who had a solid preseason before suffering an ankle injury but appears to be fully recovered now.
Tice gave his general thoughts on the challenge posed by the Saints' front.
"I can tell you this," Tice started, "I know all their players are pretty good."
The group includes rookie cornerback Ricardo Allen, a fifth-round draft pick who was unable to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. The other seven include defensive tackle Travian Robertson, offensive guard Harland Gunn, outside linebacker Jacques Smith, safety Sean Baker, offensive tackle Terren Jones, wide receiver Bernard Reedy and running back Jerome Smith.
The NFL expanded the practice-roster limit to 10 this season.
The Falcons also confirmed the addition of linebacker Nate Stupar via waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Stupar replaced veteran linebacker Tim Dobbins on the 53-man roster after Dobbins was released Sunday.
Stupar immediately joins the Falcons' 53-man roster. The team released veteran linebacker Tim Dobbins, according to Dobbins' agent, David Canter.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Stupar was a seventh-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2012 coming out of Penn State. He spent time on the practice squads in Oakland, Philadelphia and San Francisco before being claimed on waivers by the Jaguars last November.
The 26-year-old Stupar has played in 12 NFL games. His immediately role with the Falcons is expected to be on special teams. He made five special-teams tackles in seven games for the Jaguars last season.
The Falcons assume Stupar's one-year, $495,000 contract.
It turned out to be three.
Along with starter Matt Ryan, both T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree were part of the 53-man roster established on Saturday. Yates and Renfree battled for the backup role this preseason, and coach Mike Smith refused to declare a winner.
The Falcons obviously felt it would have been too risky to waive Renfree with hopes of adding him to the practice squad. Renfree seemed to have the edge for the backup role until Yates caught fire in the final exhibition game at Jacksonville. Yates completed 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons' 24-14 win.
Yates seems likely to get the first opportunity if something happens to Ryan, just based on veteran experience. He has a playoff win under his belt while in Houston and has played in 13 regular-season games with five starts.
The Falcons traded linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans in exchange for Yates.
Renfree, a seventh-round draft pick out of Duke in 2013, spent last season on injured reserve.
Last year, the Falcons went with just two quarterbacks in Ryan and Dominique Davis, who was released. Davis played in just one game in 2013.
Wild card: Waiving defensive tackle Travian Robertson was somewhat surprising, considering how well he played during training camp. The Falcons no doubt are counting on second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman to be more consistent along the defensive line during the regular season after an up-and-down start. They also must feel as if veteran Corey Peters won't have any setbacks coming off last year's Achilles' tear, although Peters did not play during the preseason. Also, the Falcons kept rookie center James Stone and released offensive tackle Terren Jones although it seemed like having more depth at tackle was a more pressing need. Some would argue that guard Harland Gunn also deserved to be kept ahead of Stone.
What’s next: The Falcons might have to consider putting in waiver claims if they feel it could help upgrade the roster. The two positions that stand out are at pass-rusher and inside linebacker. The Falcons cut ties with two inside linebackers in Pat Angerer and rookie seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood. Offensive tackle and safety might also be a need. Of course, the Falcons have to formulate their practice squad, with guys such as Allen, rookie receiver Bernard Reedy, and rookie outside linebacker Jacques Smith as prime candidates. Reedy was a favorite to stick on the roster, but the Falcons obviously valued the special-teams ability of veteran receivers Eric Weems and Courtney Roby.
Falcons moves: Waived: WR Jeremy Ebert, WR Bernard Reedy, OT Terren Jones, OG Harland Gunn, S Sean Baker, TE Mickey Shuler, CB Ricardo Allen, OLB Jacques Smith, DT Travian Robertson; DE Nose Eguae, FB Maurice Hagens, CB Jordan Mabin, WR Freddie Martino, S Kimario McFadden, TE Jacob Pedersen, OL Adam Replogle, DT Donte Rumph, LB Yawin Smallwood; Released: LB Pat Angerer, OL Pat McQuistan, RB Josh Vaughan; Waived/injured WR Geraldo Boldewijn (hamstring).
As an undrafted player out of the University of Tennessee, Smith immediately developed a reputation for being rugged after several training camp fights with his teammates. Then he was ejected from the third preseason game against Tennessee when he took a shot at Titans rookie tackle Taylor Lewan. The latter cost Smith a $8,268 fine.
Smith could end up on the Falcons' practice squad, if he clears waivers. The coaches seem to like his passion and energy, as long as he doesn't cross the line.
Smith being taken out of the equation means Tyler Starr, another outside linebacker and seventh-round draft pick, should make the team.
Also let go by the Falcons on Saturday morning, according to multiple sources, were tight end Mickey Shuler and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. Shuler was in a battle with Bear Pascoe as the No. 2 tight end behind Levine Toilolo. Shuler could be claimed off waivers. If not, he has one year of practice-squad eligibility remaining.
Ebert played well in the exhibition finale at Jacksonville, but the numbers at wide receiver did not work in his favor.
The Falcons entered Saturday needing to make 10 more cuts to reach the 53-man roster limit.
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.