FLOWERY BRANCH, — The Atlanta Falcons' most glaring unanswered questions are on offense as they began a short practice week before their final preseason game against Baltimore on Thursday night.
Starters must be found at running back, tight end, backup quarterback and on the three interior offensive line spots.
The offense struggled in Saturday night's 13-9 loss at Miami. For the first time this preseason the starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan, were ineffective. Ryan was sacked three times, as was backup T.J. Yates.
The problems began on the line, where coach Dan Quinn and his staff continued to look at different combinations at center and the two guard spots. Joe Hawley, who started at center in the first two preseason games, watched as the interior starters were center Mike Person, left guard James Stone and right guard Chris Chester. Stone has more experience at center.
Hawley is still regaining confidence in his surgically repaired right knee. "Hopefully it gets better as the year goes on," Hawley said Monday.
Hawley said Miami's strong defensive front "gives us an idea of where we're at getting ready for the start of the season."
Quinn said Monday the shuffling on the line will continue this week.
Left tackle Jake Matthews missed the practice with a back strain. His status for Thursday night is uncertain. Quinn said he continues to have interest in free-agent tackle Jake Long, who had a workout for the team during training camp.
Running back has been a question through the preseason as Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman have missed time with hamstring injuries. Coleman made his debut with four carries for only two yards against the Dolphins.
Quinn said Freeman, the favorite to start if healthy, was impressive in limited snaps on Monday.
"That was encouraging for us, to see him go and move," Quinn said. "We'll take it the next step in the process tomorrow. He caught it well out of the backfield and ran it well today."
The Falcons signed veteran Rex Grossman last week to compete with Yates and Sean Renfree to be the backup quarterback.
Quinn said he is "anticipating" Grossman will play against the Ravens but won't decide until after Wednesday's practice.
The Falcons' highlights against Miami were on defense. Adrian Clayborn recorded his second sack and a fumble recovery. Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield had a sack and a forced fumble, and linebacker Joplo Bartu had an interception.