Week one of preseason is in the books for the Falcons and Panthers. It’s not a completely clear comparison across the league, as the Falcons and Broncos have already shaken some rust in the Hall of Fame game but there were some key points for both NFC South teams playing on the road on Thursday.
Ollison Looking Strong
With Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith back and healthy, there isn’t too much space on the roster at running back. Rookie Qadree Ollison did his chances of making the roster no harm with a commanding, controlled performance, rushing for 41 yards at 5.1 yards per carry with a 15 yard touchdown too. Tony Brooks-James had a good night but was used sparingly with 21 yards from two carries. Ultimately, the final running back spot looks like Ollison’s to lose.
Falcons Improve on Short Yardage
One of the Falcons biggest weaknesses a year ago was short yardage and boy did they focus on it in the offseason with major additions on the offensive line. After their second game of the preseason, it clearly looks like the moves paid off with two one yard touchdowns for Ito Smith and Brian Hill. Now they have to replicate it when it counts.
Larkin & Grace Pushing For Roster Spot
On the defensive side of the ball their were two standout performers, both fighting to make the roster. Linebacker Jermaine Grace ended the game with five total tackles and an interception that he returned for 19 yards, looking sharp as he aims to make the roster as a backup MLB. Meanwhile Lineman Austin Larkin finished with five tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. Larkin is currently sixth of seven Defensive End’s on the roster but with a lack of standout talent on the Falcons defensive line, anyone who can produce a spark is worth consideration.
Brian Burns is the Real Deal
Burns opened up with two sacks and added two tackles and two tackles for loss on debut. He also made a good read on his second sack that it was a bootleg back to his side, beating his blocker one on one to floor Chase Daniel. It’s early and he’s still raw but initial signs are good for Burns. The Panthers search for an elite pass rusher may be over.
Grier Makes Shaky Start
Will Grier’s first NFL action didn’t start very well, with the West Virginia alum going 3-7 for 21 yards with an avoidable interception at halftime. His figures improved to 9-16 for 77 yards and a touchdown by full time. It gives the Panthers cause for concern with Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke also on the roster. With the Panthers more reliant than most on a backup QB, it is a decision they won’t take lightly.
Moving on the Slye
In 2018 Graham Gano took a step back. He missed a quarter of the season and hit under 90% of field goals, with three missed PATs too. The Panthers tried rookie Joey Slye in their preseason opener. He couldn’t have done more, going 3/3 with a long of 55 yards, adding two from 29 and 42 yards. Whether it’s enough to convince Carolina to make a change and move away from the experience of Gano is another thing. However, it was a strong performance from Slye.
Image: David Foster / Charlotte Observer