Bubble players helped themselves Thursday

Knox Bardeen looks at three players on the bubble for the Falcons.

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons finished preseason action with a 2-2 record after holding off the Baltimore Ravens 20-19 on Thursday in the Georgia Dome. As training camp and preseason games end, roster must be trimmed down.

Last weekend the Falcons whittled down from 90 players to 75. Now the coaching staff must hone in on its final roster even more. Atlanta must move from 75 players to 53 by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. Here are three players that may have helped their cause Thursday:

Dez Southward, CB – The move to cornerback from safety for 2014 third-round pick Dez Southward had been smooth. Southward has struggled mightily through three preseason games in coverage, particularly when it comes to starting and stopping and changing direction with receivers.

Southward still looks like a bit of a liability in coverage (he gave up two late scores), but he played with an intensity against the Ravens that hadn’t been present this offseason, and he did well on special teams.

Quinn likes physical corners on the outside and size is a beneficial trait. At 6-foot and 211 pounds, Southward looks the role, and he can be physical. What the Falcons’ coaching staff will have to decide is can it wait for the Southward project to develop. To answer yes, Southward will have to shine on special teams.

He did recover a fumble on a punt return Thursday. Will that be enough?

Justin Hardy, WR – Atlanta rookie Justin Hardy wasn’t necessarily a bubble player. NFL teams don’t typically cut fourth-round picks until they’ve had some substantial time in the league. But there was definitely a disconnect from the great plays he showed on the field during training camp and the troubles he had at times in preseason games.

Hardy caught two passes on Thursday for 16 yards and was targeted seven times. But it was action on special teams that may seal the fate for another receiver competing with Hardy.

Nick Williams was trying to make the Falcons’ roster as an undrafted rookie. Boy did he ever show he deserved to play in the NFL. The problem: Atlanta’s depth chart at receiver is stacked. If Williams was going to make the roster (a long shot anyway), he needed a place on special teams.

When Hardy returned a punt 70 yards Thursday, he showed the coaching staff he could provide depth in the return game. That could be bad news for Williams, who will be playing in the NFL in 2015, just maybe not for the Falcons.

Sean Renfree, QB – When the Falcons brought in Rex Grossman late in camp, T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree were put on notice. With Grossman’s knowledge of Kyle Shanahan’s system, it looked like a foregone conclusion that Grossman would stay.

Quinn didn’t echo that sentiment after Thursday’s game.

“We’ll have to go back and watch the stuff from tonight," said Quinn. "But right now Sean and T.J. are going to be the ones we’re focusing on.”

Renfree went 10 for 15 with a touchdown pass against the Ravens and may have staved off unemployment.


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