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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons are looking for starters to emerge at right tackle and nickel back in their final preseason game.
Coach Mike Smith said there is no "clarity" at those spots, though he likes the contenders. He's also hoping to find his No. 2 quarterback as he holds out some established starters in Thursday night's game at Jacksonville.
Normally, the focus for the final preseason game is the competition for the final roster spots. Smith said this year's prolonged battles for starting jobs remind him of his 2008 debut season in Atlanta.
"There are probably as many position battles going on this year as there were the first year here," Smith said Tuesday. "It's very similar to that. I think the guys have done a very good job competing, not only on the practice field but for the most part on game day as well."
T.J. Yates, acquired from Houston in June, and Sean Renfree are competing to be the top backup quarterback behind Matt Ryan.
Renfree, who spent his 2013 rookie season on injured reserve, threw a touchdown pass to Devin Hester last week. He has completed 18 of 32 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown. Yates has completed only 39.4 percent of his passes — 13 of 33 for 195 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Smith has not disclosed his plan to distribute the snaps at quarterback against the Jaguars. If Ryan is held out, it's possible each contender for the backup job will play one half.
Lamar Holmes has been the starting right tackle since Sam Baker's season-ending knee injury forced rookie Jake Matthews to move to left tackle. Thursday night will be an opportunity for Gabe Carimi to show he should be the right tackle. Carimi missed the first three preseason games with an ankle injury he suffered in an Aug. 4 combined practice with the Tennessee Titans.
Holmes was thrust into a similar situation as a rookie last season. He started in 15 games, playing both tackle spots, as the patchwork offensive line struggled.
Holmes said Tuesday he's better prepared for his second season and another opportunity to start.
"I feel 10 times better," Holmes said. "I mean, I felt good last year, but then again last year I didn't know what it took to be a professional and what it took to go into this game and to play this game at such a high intensity that you have to bring to the game. I have that year under my belt and I actually understand what it takes to play this game."
Carimi, a first-round pick by the Bears in 2011, has 19 career starts with Chicago and Tampa Bay. He signed with the Falcons as a free agent and is left with only one preseason game to make his case for a starting job.
"We need an evaluation on Gabe," Smith said. "Unfortunately he was injured in the scrimmage against the Titans and he's missed basically all of the preseason, so we didn't get a good evaluation. He'll get a look at multiple positions."
Smith said all three candidates at the nickel back spot used on passing downs will play. Josh Wilson is No. 1 on the team's depth chart, followed by Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. Smith said the three may rotate by series.
NOTES: RB Steven Jackson, who returned to practice on Monday after missing almost a month with a hamstring injury, practiced again on Tuesday. ... RG Jon Asamoah, held out Monday for precautionary reasons, returned. ... S Dezmen Southward, on concussion protocol, was an observer and likely won't play on Thursday.
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