Former Central standout J.D. McKissic gets another chance to earn berth on Falcons final roster

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Falcons’ J.D. McKissic catches a punt while warming up before an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.
Atlanta Falcons’ J.D. McKissic catches a punt while warming up before an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. AP

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Perhaps Tuesday’s season-ending injury to Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will lead to a change of heart, but Falcons head coach Dan Quinn plans to play the starters in the final exhibition game against Jacksonville on Thursday at the Georgia Dome.

While fans have paid full price for the tickets, final exhibition games are really glorified scrimmages featuring players trying to earn the last few spots on the roster.

Although Quinn said the starters will just play briefly, in light of Bridgewater’s knee injury, why bother? The Vikings went from Super Bowl contenders to perhaps the last-place team in the NFC North in one second.

Quinn specifically mentioned that running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will play, as well as pass rusher Vic Beasley. Quinn also said quarterback Matt Ryan would “not get many” snaps if he plays at all.

“I won’t tell the players how long,” Quinn said. “They won’t know how long or how much, but they will all be ready to play.”

While fans should arrive early to see the first unit, here are five players to watch against the Jaguars:

▪  Dashon Goldson, free safety. The Falcons signed Goldson on Sunday for added depth in the wake of Keanu Neal’s knee injury. They had listed two rookie free agents, Sharrod Neasman and Damian Parms, at strong safety behind Kemal Ishmael before adding Goldson.

Goldson is a nine-year veteran but his late signing means he'll need to be a quick-study to absorb the Falcons’ defense.

“He’s done a nice job this week in terms of learning and applying,” Quinn said. “We won’t overload him but we definitely want to get him some work.”

Goldson spent part of the practice week standing next to assistant coach Marquand Manuel reviewing formations and techniques. He started 15 games last season for Washington and is projected to backup Ishmael in the regular-season opener.

▪ J.D. McKissic, wide receiver. The Phenix City Flash from Arkansas State has made things difficult for the Falcons with his strong performances in the exhibition season.

Ideally, the Falcons want to use Eric Weems as punt returner and Coleman as the kickoff returner. But McKissic has given them some options.

He returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown against Washington two weeks ago and has been solid fielding punts.

▪ Wes Schweitzer, guard. Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan threw Schweitzer, a sixth-round pick out of San Jose State, to the wolves against Miami.

He played 40 snaps and didn’t perform well in some of matchups with All-Pro tackle Ndamukong Suh. It was a baptism by fire.

Now that he’s seen a top talent, Schweitzer knows what he needs to work on. He appears to be the future at one of the guard spots but would probably be better served by playing the backup swing guard spot as a rookie.

▪  Terron Ward, running back. Ward made the team last season as an undrafted rookie from Oregon State and served on special teams and as a third-string running back. He has missed the exhibition games with an ankle injury.

Ward is scheduled to carry most of the rushing load against the Jaguars. Last season, he rushed 29 times for 95 yards and scored one touchdown.

▪ Damian Parms, strong safety. With Neal out and Goldson set to play a limited role, Parms will get plenty of action.

The Falcons are likely to carry four safeties into the season with Neal, Goldson, Ricardo Allen and Robenson Therezie. But Parms may make them carry an extra safety with a strong showing.

He has 11 tackles and two special teams tackles in exhibition play.