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  1. FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith has no intentions of being a dream killer when delivering news to a player that his services are no longer needed. He walks that fine line of being truthful, direct and still uplifting when telling players they are being released. Several players are set to play in the last game of their football careers when the Falcons (1-2) close out the exhibition season at Jacksonville (2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at EverBank Field. After returning to Atlanta, the Falcons must trim their roster from 75 players to 53 by 9 p.m. Friday night. Smith, who’s in his fifth year as head coach, meets with each player to share the news. “You have to be very direct with the guys on the field,” Smith said. Most starters are not expected to play against the Jaguars, so the players on the bubble will get one final chance to impress the coaches. Smith stresses that other teams in the league might be interested in their services. “They are not only being evaluated by our coaching staff, but they are being evaluated by 31 other teams in the league,” Smith said. “The personnel staff spent a lot of time in this preseason evaluating players. So, if they don’t have an opportunity here, their performance on the field is being evaluated by someone else.” The Falcons will likely start releasing players early Friday. In the past under Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons have not pushed their decisions up to the deadline. “It is just a tough time of the year when you have to go down from 90 to 75 and from 75 down to 53,” Smith said. “It’s part of the business. It’s something that you have to deliver and it’s something that you have to be honest with the players and tell them why they are going to be on the team and why they are not going to be on the team.” Some of the released players will have the opportunity to come back on the team’s eight-player practice squad. “They are familiar with our scheme and may possibly have an opportunity to come back,” Smith said. Here’s a position-by-position analysis of the roster heading into the final cuts: OFFENSE Quarterbacks (2, number of players on the opening day roster against Chicago in 2011 at the position) – Locks: Matt Ryan and Luke McCown. On the bubble: Dominique Davis. McCown played the past three seasons in Jacksonville under new Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Davis has dazzled in the exhibition games, completing 19 of 32 pass attempts for 227 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 88.9. It will be interesting to see if the team exposes him to the waiver wire and try to sneak him back through to the practice squad. Wide receivers (5) – Locks: Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. On the bubble: Kerry Meier, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone. Longshots: James Rodgers, Tim Toone and Marcus Jackson. Meier appeared to have the fourth spots locked up before suffering a leg injury. Davis and Cone have both had strong camps and could round out the unit. Toone had a nice touchdown catch against Miami and can play special teams. Jackson and Rodgers are candidates for the practice squad. Offensive line (9) – Locks: Sam Baker, Lamar Holmes, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Peter Konz, Tyson Clabo and Garrett Reynolds. On the bubble: Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson. Longshots: Andrew Jackson, Phillipkeith Manley, Tyler Horn and Bryce Harris. The battle for the starting right guard spot between second-round pick Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds is going down to the wire. Third-round pick Lamar Holmes was impressive in a cameo appearance against Miami. He will get extended playing time against Jacksonville. Manley has some potential and could be back on the practice squad. Tight ends (3) – Locks: Tony Gonzalez and Michael Palmer. Longshots: Tommy Gallarda and LaMark Brown. The Falcons could go with just two tight ends and use Reynolds as the third tight end in short yardage situations. Running backs (5) – Locks: Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. On the bubble: Antone Smith, Dimitri Nance and Lousaka Polite. Longshot: Mike Cox. Antone Smith starred on special teams last season and should make it back to the roster. If Polite doesn’t show well against Jacksonville, the Falcons may be in the salary-cap casualty market for a fullback. DEFENSE Defensive line (10) – Locks: Ends — John Abraham, Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann. Tackles – Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jeria and Travian Robertson. On the bubble: Ends – Lawrence Sidbury, Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi. Tackles – Vance Walker. Longshots: Tackles – Conrad Obi and Micanor Regis. If the Falcons keep 10 players along the defensive line again, all of the defensive ends – Sidbury, Matthews and Massaquoi – could make the final roster. With Corey Peters on the reserve/non-football injured list, there’s an extra spot for one of the tackles. Linebackers (6) – Locks: Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent and Mike Peterson. On the bubble: Robert James and Spencer Adkins. Longshots: Rico Council, Pat Schiller and Jerrell Harris. The Falcons are expecting big seasons from Weatherspoon, Dent and Nicholas. Peterson will serve as the main backup while James and Adkins play on special teams. Council, Schiller and Harris are all solid candidates for the practice squad. Cornerbacks (6) – Locks: Dunta Robinson, Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dominique Franks. On the bubble: Christopher Owens and Peyton Thompson. Longshots: Marty Markett and Robert McClain. Smith said that injuries will be a factor in some decisions and Owens has been out with a hamstring. Thompson and McClain have had strong camps. Safeties (4) – Locks: William Moore, Thomas DeCoud and Chris Hope. On the bubble: Charles Mitchell and Shann Schillinger. Longshots: Suaesi Tuimaunei. The final safety spot appears to be down to Schillinger and Mitchell. Specialists (3) — Locks: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher and Joe Zelenka. Longshot: Josh Harris. Harris looks like a pro snapper and could latch on with another team.
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