In the blink of an eye, the 2021 NFL season has, effectively, arrived. All that’s left is a three-week period of pre-season friendlies, and we’re there. Sadly, pre-season football doesn’t bring anything close to the excitement that you get from the regular and post-season iterations. That doesn’t mean you can’t find value there, mind. As the Atlanta Falcons gear up to host the Tennessee Titans on Friday night, here are the key things to keep watch on, if you’re planning on watching the first game of the pre-season stretch.
The key change for the Falcons heading into 2021 is the total overhaul of the coaching staff. FIrst-time head coach, Arthur Smith, will be heading up the new-look Falcons. Equally as important, however, is veteran defensive coordinator, Dean Pees. While you can’t take much from pre-season football, it’s interesting to see what sort of looks and concepts both play-callers bring to the table. With only three games to get a foundation in place, expect the new Falcons regime to be calling the game like it’s mid-season.
Question marks at QB
Tennessee won’t be bringing Ryan Tannehill to the party, and it’s unlikely Matt Ryan will play much if at all. The onus, then, will be on QBs 2 and 3 on the depth chart; Messrs McCarron and Franks. A.J. McCarron was picked up back April, to act as the primary backup to Matt Ryan. Feleipe Franks, however, was taken as an undrafted rookie free agent once the draft weekend had wrapped up. Expect the pair to take the bulk of the snaps.
Reports from camp suggest that McCarron is leading the race for the role of QB2 in 2021, but Franks has been “attached to Matt Ryan’s hip”. It’s not the sexiest of battles, but it’s an intriguing one, nevertheless.
Making sense of the defense
There are effectively no guarantees with this Falcons defense. Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, and A.J. Terrell. That’s basically it. Every other player under contract has to earn their spot, and pre-season is exactly where it’s earned. Will Richie Grant show himself capable of starting week one? Is Marlon Davison the answer alongside Grady Jarrett along the defensive line? And is anyone going to make noise opposite A.J. Terrell? We’ll certainly have a better idea come Friday night.