With the Falcons opening the preseason on Thursday, which position will be most closely analyzed under the microscope? Watch AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov for the answer.
1. Jones distances himself from Ryan. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is not one to make many bold predictions.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has said that Jones could eclipse 2,000 yards receiving and that the offense could average 30 points a game.
Jones is from the Nick Saban “one game at a time” school when it comes to predictions.
“You know, that’s what Matt said,” Jones said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. We got to continue, we’re still in camp right now. We’re talking about the season and we still got to do (exhibition) season and everything. So, when it comes around, we’ll see.”
Jones does believe that Ryan looks more comfortable in the second-year running offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
“Oh yeah, Matt, he can move a little bit,” Jones said of a recent Ryan scramble. “Don’t want to give him too much credit because it might go to his head and he’ll always want to run the ball. You know how it is, offensive guys will go on defense and think we can back pedal and play (defensive back). So, you don’t want to put it into Matt’s head that he’s a running quarterback. Just keep him level-headed, please.”
2. Upshaw update. Falcons defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw played strongside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens over the past four years.
Great things were projected of him after a fine career at Alabama where he played on two national championship teams. Upshaw was a second-team AP All-American and was the defensive most valuable player on the 2012 BCS National Championship game.
The Ravens selected him in the second-round (35th overall) of the 2012 draft. He signed a four-year, $5.2 million contract with the Ravens, when it was up, they didn’t re-sign him.
He started 51 games and played in 64. As a rookie, Upshaw had a key forced fumble in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Falcons signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million (make good) contract and have converted him to a defensive tackle. He’s currently listed as the No. 2 tackle behind Grady Jarrett.
“The Falcons are giving me a chance,” Upshaw said. “As you know, with the one-year deal, I’m here to try to make the best of it.”
Upshaw has embraced his move to tackle.
“It’s something new, but at the end of the day, I’m down for the challenge,” Upshaw said. “I appreciate coach (Dan) Quinn bringing me in and not just limiting me to one position. He’s trying to allow me to make plays in camp so that I can get on the field.”
Upshaw is expected to see plenty of action against Washington.
“I feel that it’s going good, but it could always be better,” Upshaw said. “I’m taking the good with the bad. My goal is to get better so that I can get on the field and help the team.”
He senses that the team is ready for the start of the exhibition games.
“Of course, we are all ready to get out here and see what we can do,” Upshaw said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys here along with myself and we appreciate that we’re here. We want to show that we can go out here and help the team.”
3. Watch for the speedy Reynolds. While rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell have dominated the spotlight at the linebacker position in training camp, veteran LaRoy Reynolds, who was signed in free agency, has quietly gone about his business.
Reynolds, who played for the Bears last season, was signed for $675,000 in free agency. He’s a speedy special teams player.
“I was just grateful to have another opportunity to do something,” Reynolds said. “After you get released, you are grateful for the opportunities that you do get. I was just excited to get here and be a part of the good group of guys.”
With the young guys being developed, Reynolds is not delusional about his status with the team.
“Just my energy, my juice and my leadership,” Reynolds said is what he can bring to the team. “I think that’s a big part of who I am as a person. Just being able to bring that to the younger guys and then on special teams. I can show the guys how to really practice. How to really go after it and how to be a part of the defense. For me, it’s just being that leader and having that role.”
The players were elated to see “The Nature Boy.”
“You could see the energy,” Quinn said. “He was talking with us and having some fun. It was great to have his support and to have him be a part of it. You could tell that he’s a big fan and that we’re also big fans of his.”
During, the early team meeting, Quinn showed from clips for Flair’s wrestling days.
5. Falcons 4 x 100 relay team. In the Olympic spirit, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was asked who would be on the team’s 4×100 meter relay team.
“We got a lot of fast guys out here,” Jones said. “Robert Alford, Tevin Coleman, Aldrick Robinson, and probably myself. I’m trying to think of who else. Yeah, that’s about right.”
Jones believes he’d be the anchor.
“Most definitely,” Jones said. “That or third leg.”
6. Hageman update. Falcons defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman is quietly going about having a strong training camp.
Hageman, who was drafted in the second round (37th overall) of the 2014 draft, has been moved to defensive end.
“He’s done a good job in that transition,” Quinn said. “Right now, he’s playing really solid ball and I think he’s improved player from the 2015 season at least now in training camp.”
Hageman played in all 16 games, including 12 starts last season. While he was stout against the run, Hageman didn’t make much of an impact as he finished with 27 tackles, one sack, no hurries, six quarterback hits and one pass defense.
Hageman is listed No. 2 behind Derrick Shelby at left defensive end. The Falcons want to see Hageman develop some consistency.
“Now, we’ve got to take it into the exhibition season games and allow that work to continue,” Quinn said. “We are pleased with the start of where he’s at heading into this year.”
7. 5 questions with offensive line coach Chris Morgan. Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan believes that his unit can improve immensely.
Here’s what he had to say about the unit to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Q: How are the guys practicing?
A: “Guys are working hard.”
Q: How’s the chemistry coming along in the trenches?
A: “It’s good. We are taking steps every day. The more these guys play together … we are still moving guys around a lot, flipping sides, seeing who can play where. We have a long way to go, but they are working hard.”
Q: Looks like you’re playing musical chairs at the guard positions?
A: “It’s going good. We have a lot of competition inside. We are looking at all those guys. Every day is a battle here. Every day is a competition. We try to make it as hard as possible. Those guys are getting shots. We’re going to find the combination of the best five and roll.”
Q: How are the tackles working out?
A: “Every day is a grind. They are learning. They are coming along. But we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do everywhere. The tackles, still have room to grow. All of them. Jake (Matthews), Ryan (Schraeder), all of us. Every single day.”
Q: What’s it like having a pro out there like Mack?
A: “It’s pretty good. You see the toughness. You see the experience. He’s still learning a couple things and how we do everything. Working together with the new guys. How everybody is fitting together is a good process. We are moving forward and getting better every day.”
8. TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
10 – Wednesday — Walk through — closed to public
11 – Thursday vs. Washington 7 p.m. (Georgia Dome).
12 – Friday, closed practice.
13 – Saturday, players off.
14 – Sunday, public practice, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
15 – Monday, public practice, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
16 – Tuesday, public practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
9. Depth chart for Washington game. The Falcons, who open the exhibition season against Washington at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Georgia Dome released their first official depth chart for the 2016 season.
(The team calls it an ‘unofficial’ depth chart. But if they are releasing it, for our purposes, that makes it pretty official.)
While rookie linebackers Deion Jones and Dominique Campbell have been receiving most of the first-ream action at middle and weakside linebacker, veterans Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon are listed as the starters.
Also, rookie tight end Austin Hooper is listed as the No. 2 tight end ahead of veteran Levine Toilolo.
Recently acquired defensive end Dwight Freeney is listed as the third defensive end behind Adrian Clayborn and Brooks Reed.
On special teams, Tevin Coleman is listed as the No. 1 kickoff returner and Eric Weems as the top punt returner.
Here’s how the depth chart is stacked heading into the exhibition opener:
WR Julio Jones, Justin Hardy, Eric Weems, Devin Fuller, Jordan Leslie, Corey Washington
LT Jake Matthews, Tom Compton, Laurence Gibson
LG Andy Levitre, Wes Schweitzer, Collin Rahrig
C Alex Mack, Ben Garland, Jake Reed
RG Chris Chester, Mike Person, Michael Huey
RT Ryan Schraeder, Bryce Harris, Shahbaz Ahmed
TE Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo, D.J. Tialavea, Joshua Perkins, Arthur Lynch
WR Mohamed Sanu, Aldrick Robinson, Nick Williams, J.D. McKissic, David Glidden
FB Patrick DiMarco, Will Ratelle
QB Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Sean Renfree, Matt Simms
RB Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Gus Johnson, Brandon Wilds
FB Patrick DiMarco, Will Ratelle
DE Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, Dwight Freeney, Nordly Capi
DT Tyson Jackson, Jonathan Babineaux, Cory Johnson, Brandon Williams
DT Grady Jarrett, Courtney Upshaw, Joey Mbu, Chris Mayes
DE Derrick Shelby, Ra’Shede Hageman, Malliciah Goodman, Efe Obado
LB Vic Beasley, Philip Wheeler, Tyler Starr, Ivan McLennan
LB Paul Worrilow, Deion Jones, LaRoy Reynolds
LB Sean Weatherspoon, De’Vondre Campbell, Matt Wells
CB Robert Alford, Jalen Collins, C.J. Goodwin, David Mims II, Jordan Sefon
CB Desmond Trufant, Akeem King, Brian Poole, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Devonte Johnson
FS Ricardo Allen, Robenson Therezie, Sharrod Neasman
SS Keanu Neal, Kemal Ishmael, Damian Parms
K Matt Bryant, Nick Rose
KO Matt Bosher
P Matt Bosher
KR Tevin Coleman, Eric Weems, Devin Fuller, J.D. McKissic
PR Eric Weems, Devin Fuller, J.D. McKissic
LS Josh Harris
H Matt Bosher
ICYMI — TRAINING CAMP STORIES
90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS — POSITION BY POSITION