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Monday May 30th, 2016 8:40AM

Falcons' Smith to start 'real evaluation process'

By The Associated Press
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ATLANTA -- Mike Smith isn't thinking about the opponent as his Falcons enter their preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

There has been no game-planning in practice this week for Thursday night's matchup against the Ravens. Instead, the coach said he wants to use his first look at his players in a game to help him build his depth chart.

The Falcons have been through offseason workouts, minicamp and two weeks of training camp. Now it's time to get serious.

Smith said the preseason opener is when "the real evaluation process truly starts."

"All of this stuff is good in terms of practice," Smith said Tuesday. "We're going to get to see how these guys perform under the lights."

Smith compared his current challenge of choosing starters and backups to his first season as Falcons coach in 2008. He said that's why he didn't prepare a game plan for the Ravens.

"Philosophically, we just felt like we need to evaluate guys in this first preseason game," Smith said. "Go back to the first year we were here, we were working to try and figure out who was going to be on our 53-man roster. This year is much like the first year, in terms of spots that are open on the roster."

Quarterback Matt Ryan and other starters may play only one quarter.

Smith said he'll be closely watching his offensive line. Pass protection against the Ravens' tough defense will be a top priority.

Some offensive linemen will play more than one position.

"It'll give us some time to evaluate a number of guys that are battling for positions," Smith said. "There are probably 12 or 13 guys that realistically have a chance to be one of the nine guys on our roster."

The Falcons (No. 13 in the AP Pro32) released their first preseason depth chart this week, but changes could come based on performances against the Ravens (No. 5, AP Pro32).

At left tackle, Sam Baker is competing against Will Svitek and rookie Lamar Holmes. Rookie Peter Konz and Mike Johnson are challenging current starter Garrett Reynolds at right guard.

Konz said he expects to play at guard and center.

"They're trying to expose me to anything and everything at both positions so that when I do get in there, especially in these preseason games when there's no doubt they're going to have me at guard and center, I can be in there and be confident and make all the calls I need to make," Konz said.

Ryan looked sharp in a combined practice with the Tennessee Titans this week, when quarterbacks wore yellow jerseys and could not be hit. The preseason opener will provide a better test for the Falcons' offense, especially when each team has its starters on the Georgia Dome field.

"I think we just need to clean some things up, work on some of our assignments," Ryan said. "That's the biggest thing, just keep trying to get better and make sure we're communicating well."
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