Head coach Arthur Smith of the Atlanta Falcons (Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images)
The obvious reason that NFL teams hold training camps and play in preseason games is to find the 53 guys they want on the roster, but also to get some practice in, but for a team with a lot of question marks, like the Atlanta Falcons, it is about more than that.
Who has the upper hand with a specific position battle? What rookies will step up and make plays to deserve a starting spot? Who knows the playbook like the back of their hand?
All these things are questions that Arthur Smith and his staff will have to decide during the shortened preseason. Certainly it is much better than last year when the Falcons and the rest of the NFL had to make cuts off of nothing more than a few practices.
So here are the main goals that the Atlanta Falcons need to achieve during the preseason to have a chance to compete in 2021.
Atlanta Falcons preseason goals: Establish Arthur Smith’s playbook
For the Atlanta Falcons, it all starts with the quarterback, and the good news for them is that they have one of the most experienced veterans in the league when it comes to learning new playbooks.
Matt Ryan has had no shortage of having new playbooks thrown at him. Mike Mularkey, Dirk Koetter, Kyle Shanahan, Steve Sarkisian, and Dirk Koetter once again.
When you compare that to other veteran quarterbacks, that is a long list. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have both essentially had to learn two playbooks during their entire careers, which have been longer than Ryan’s career.
Not to mention that Kyle Shanahan is known for having one of the most difficult offensive playbooks.
Matt Ryan is perfectly equipped to learn the new offense, as he surely has already, for the most part.
It is more about the other guys. Will they be able to know the playbook like they need to by the time the season starts? The preseason will have a lot to do with that, as there is a difference between remember every little thing in practice, versus in a live game.
It may not go absolutely perfect for the Atlanta Falcons offense in 2021. When Shanahan came in it took them about a year to reach their potential, but if the team wants to compete in any capacity this year, it will lie on the offense.
Atlanta Falcons rookie center Matt Hennessy (left) and guard Chris Lindstrom take the field, Mandatory Credit: Curtis Compton/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons preseason goals: Find the right combination on the offensive line
No doubt that the Atlanta Falcons offensive line has some question marks.
You basically have Jake Matthews set as the left tackle, and Chris Lindstrom set as the right guard, but past that it is unknown.
It is yet to be seen if Jalen Mayfield will get a shot as the starting left guard or they plan to continue to play him as a tackle. Things may have gone different if Kaleb McGary was ready to start training camp, but with him just recently returning it has caused Mayfield to line up on the right edge.
That makes the situation even more confusing, as it may cause Josh Andrews to be the starter when the Falcons take on the Eagles in week one. It may not be the worst idea as Andrews has a lot of experience, but he also has not played too great in recent seasons.
Then you have the center spot, which all early reports show that Matt Hennessy is running away with. That would be the best-case scenario.
And last, we have the right tackle spot. It does not take an expert to say that Kaleb McGary will in all likelihood end up as the day one starter, but with his lack of reps that may be in danger.
The first official depth chart should be taken with a grain of salt, but it currently shows Willie Beavers as the front runner on the right side. That is a bit of a surprise, many would have expected to see Jalen Mayfield there instead, but he is further down.
Another thing that factors into it is how these Falcons players play with each other, and which combination of players makes for the most reliable lineup.