Hall of Fame Game: 5 burning questions for Falcons vs. Broncos

By Jesse Reed
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton is just about here, with the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos getting the preseason kicked off on Thursday night.

Game details: Here’s a look at the start time, television information, and odds for Thursday night’s Falcons vs. Broncos Hall of Fame Game.

  • When: 8 p.m. EST on August 1, 2019
  • Where: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton, OH
  • TV: NBC
  • Live Stream: NBC Sports App and NFL Game Pass
  • Betting Line: Denver -3 / 34 points

The big picture: Don’t expect to see many starters playing for either team. This is an extra preseason game for both the Falcons and Broncos. Coaches aren’t going to risk an injury on a field that has in the past proven to be questionable, at best.

With that in mind, here are five burning questions for the Falcons vs. Broncos in Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game.

Who will step up?

The Broncos have already made it crystal clear that Joe Flacco and most of the other starters are not playing. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn also hinted that he’s keeping most of his starters off the field as well.

So, while some fans may be upset that the stars won’t be on the field, this is a prime opportunity for some unknown players to quickly become fan favorites and help themselves cement a spot on the final roster.

During last year’s Hall of Fame Game, Chicago Bears receiver Javon Wims broke out with seven catches for 89 yards and opened a lot of eyes to his potential. Who is going to be this year’s surprise star?

Can Russell Gage force his way into the Falcons’ lineup?

The Falcons have quite a crowded wide receiving corps, with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, and Justin Hardy all being viable threats. However, this summer Russell Gage has been showing up big time during practices, taking advantage of Jones’ foot injury.

Gage is not projected to receive much action during the regular season due to the depth the Falcons have. Last season as a rookie, he caught just six passes for 63 yards. This former sixth-round pick out of LSU can certainly change his fate, though, if he continues to produce in practices, and on the field during the preseason.

Is Dre’Mont Jones ready to become a key defender for Denver?

Coming out of Ohio State, Dre’Mont Jones was one of the more intriguing defensive line prospects of this past draft cycle. A big, athletic guy who flashed explosive potential during his tenure with the Buckeyes, Jones was selected by Denver in the third round of the draft and has a prime opportunity to become a key cog in one of the league’s most dominant defensive fronts.

So far, Jones has struggled to adapt to the NFL and his new position as a 3-4 defensive end in Vic Fangio’s scheme. He’ll likely get plenty of opportunities to improve his craft on Thursday night against Atlanta, which has a strong offensive line.

Will Kendall Sheffield continue to impress?

The Falcons may have landed a gem in fourth-round cornerback Kendall Sheffield, has has been singled out by head coach Dan Quinn for his outstanding work in camp so far. We recently highlighted Sheffield as a player to watch this summer, and so far he’s done nothing but improve his chances of earning a significant role in Atlanta’s defense.

Coming out of Ohio State, Sheffield’s biggest weakness was a lack of technique. He has all the physical gifts you look for in a defensive back and is a true burner who can keep up with the league’s fastest receivers. It’s going to be fun watching Sheffield on Thursday night as he attempts to keep the good vibes going.

Can Drew Lock prove he’s a quarterback?

The Broncos are playing it cool with rookie quarterback Drew Lock. Joe Flacco won’t start, and neither will the second-rounder out of Missouri. Instead, Kevin Hogan is getting the start, and Lock will be the second quarterback.

It follows right in line with what Fangio recently said of Lock, which was that the raw rookie is not even a quarterback yet. “He’s a hard-throwing pitcher who doesn’t know how to pitch yet,” Fangio said.

Lock should get plenty of snaps in on Thursday night against the Falcons in the Hall of Fame Game. He clearly is not remotely ready to start for Denver, but a strong preseason will go a long way toward his development.