Early Preseason Preview: Jaguars vs Falcons

Jaguars football is back, well sort of. It's only an exhibition, but the players will be wearing real jerseys, and there will be real hitting. Get ready Matt Ryan.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Saturday, August 9th, 2008- 7:30 p.m.
Jacksonville Municipal Stadium
Kickoff forecast: 82 degrees, 40% chance of precipitation
2007 records: Atlanta- 4-12, Jacksonville- 12-6


Obviously, preseason is more for talent evaluation rather than winning, but jobs will certainly be won or lost, just ask David Garrard

"It's a proven fact that you can win a job in preseason."


New Faces:

The big story for the first preseason game for any team will be the first look at the new free agent acquisitions in game situations, as well as rookies. For Atlanta, the main draw will be the first professional game for the Falcons' first-round draft choice, QB Matt Ryan. Ryan is obviously the future at the quarterback position for Atlanta, as they try and turn the page from the Michael Vick era. Aside from Ryan, the Falcons will be getting their first look at running back Michael Turner, tight end Ben Hartsock, rookie wide receiver Harry Douglas, rookie left tackle Sam Baker, cornerback Von Hutchins, former Jaguars safety Deke Cooper, and veteran placekicker Jason Elam.

Jaguars fans will get their first sights of the newly acquired Troy Williamson (WR), Drayton Florence (CB), Cleo Lemon (QB), Pierson Prioleau (FS), and rookies Quentin Groves (DE), Thomas Williams (LB), Trae Williams (CB), Chauncey Washington (RB), Brian Witherspoon (CB), Michael Grant (CB), Isaiah Gardner (CB), Drew Miller (C), and Jeron Harvey (WR).

A few names that are missing from the list are Jerry Porter, who is out with a hamstring, and rookie Derrick Harvey, who hasn't signed at the time of this report.


Players To Watch:

For the visiting Falcons, all eyes will obviously be on Matt Ryan, who was the first quarterback taken in April's draft (3rd overall). Falcons head coach Mike Smith is trying to determine when Ryan will be ready to take the field in regular season action, as both Chris Redman and Joey Harrington are lame duck quarterbacks.

Michael "The Burner" Turner will be trying to prove he was worth all the millions that Falcons owner and Home Depot founder Arthur Blank spent on him in free agency. Since Turner is clearly the number one back, don't look for him to get too much action.

Something to watch will be the Falcons offensive line. They were abysmal a year ago and they are going to have to prove that they can stand up to a pass rush before coach Smith even thinks about putting their prized rookie Matt Ryan on the field when the real bullets fly.

For the Jaguars, quarterback David Garrard has nothing else to prove in the preseason. He's finally the man in Jacksonville, and if we see him for more than a series or two, it will be a lot.

Everyone should have their eyes on the Jags wide receiving corps. Troy Williamson is trying to overcome the reputation of stone hands that plagued him throughout his three seasons in Minnesota; Matt Jones has his back against the wall and is trying to earn a roster spot; and Mike Walker is trying to stay healthy and prove he can be a star outside of practice.

It's showtime for defensive ends Reggie Hayward, who is trying to prove he doesn't need to be replaced by a pair of rookies, James Wyche, who is just trying to make the roster, and Quentin Groves, who is trying to find where he fits in the NFL.

Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson is playing in his first game since going down with a broken arm last season, and by the way he's been hitting in practice, he's "chomping at the bit" to get back on the field.


Notes:

This game brings the return of former Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who is now the Falcons head coach. Smith takes over one of the biggest messes in the NFL, and the cheers that he should receive may be some of the only ones he gets this season. The Falcons team is void of talent and in full rebuilding mode.

"When they hired me, the thing we talked about is being very systematic in how we would put our football team together," said coach Smith. "We're starting with a new slate. We're changing the culture in the whole building. The first thing you have to do is change people's behavior,"

The 2008 preseason is much more important for this Atlanta team than the Jaguars. Falcons fans need something to cheer and feel proud about, and winning these early exhibitions may help in that respect. Still, the most important objective for coach Smith is to figure out how many of his 80 players can play at the NFL level, and who his best 53 will be.

"We're obviously in a different place. We want to go through the evaluation process but we're in a different place in terms of where our football team is. We're just starting the process. They're light years ahead of us. We don't have a lot of shoo-in guys who are going to make our roster," Smith said.


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