What to look for in the first game of 2014

What to look for in the first game of 2014

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on as the Falcons play the Dolphins Friday night.

It’s here! Football season starts Friday night as the Atlanta Falcons host the Miami Dolphins in the first exhibition game of the 2014 season. The Georgia Dome should be rocking for at least a little while, until the real football fans watch to rest of the game to see how this team will look for the upcoming season.

Here are a handful of things to look for as the Falcons get on the field for the first time this season.

1) With the injury to Steven Jackson, the Falcons have to be careful at the running back position. They can’t afford another injury. However, they need to see how Devonta Freeman can play. He’s impressed at practice so far, but they need to see how Freeman looks against teams in a different uniform.

2) How will the rebuilt offensive line look? Well, keep your eyes on number 70, Jake Matthews. He’s going to impress you. Matthews might be a little nervous, but he’s certain to impress. He’s a special talent. And will Sam Baker look back to normal after missing so much time last season?

3) How will the second string offensive line look? A couple of guys that got starts last year – Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder – will be battling it out for backup roles and should get a lot of playing time. Also, watch Mike Johnson, coming back from the leg injury that cost him last season.

4) Tony Gonzalez is gone as the tight end, so we’ll see Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe get plenty of playing time this month to see who will take over. They’ll probably both play a lot in different situations, but it will be different not seeing a future Hall-of-Famer out there for Atlanta.

5) What will defensive coordinator Mike Nolan show us in the first game? We’ll see some different combinations but it’s doubtful we’ll see what he’ll throw out there in week one against the Saints. But with all the new players, it will be fun to see who lines up where.

6) How will newcomers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson look on the defensive line? Regardless of what the Falcons are in, these two new guys are going to see a lot of action. It’ll be fun to see how teams try to run on the Falcons and how Soliai can stop them.

7) Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu were fresh-eyed rookies a year ago trying to win a job, maybe just on the practice squad. Instead, they became important contributors. Now, they are the leaders of the linebackers. Can they handle it and show the new rookies what the NFL is all about?

8) With Dwight Lowery out, what will happen at safety? Dez Southward has been out for a while, so he might not play much. We’ll probably see Kemal Ishmael a lot at the safety spot, but there will be other no-names that we may know after Friday’s game that will have to play.

9) How will the rookies look? Ra’Shede Hageman will be fun to keep an eye on. What about the other rookie linebackers – Prince Shembo, Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr? And cornerback Ricardo Allen will out there getting playing time.

10) How many fights will the Falcons get into? They are averaging about one fight every two days. Head coach Mike Smith tries to publicly frown upon the altercations, but he’s the one wanting physicality. Maybe they’ll turn their frustrations on the Dolphins instead of each other.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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