LINING UP: Mariota debuts, Bills host Panthers in preseason
A look at what to expect in Friday night’s NFL preseason games (all times EDT):
TITANS AT FALCONS, 7 p.m.
Tennessee rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 draft pick overall, has been impressive in training camp, avoiding interceptions just as he did while starring at Oregon.
Mariota has thrown 186 passes without an interception in seven-on-seven and team drills at training camp. Of course, quarterbacks can’t be hit in camp. That changes Friday night.
Atlanta ranked last in the league in total defense in 2014. New coach Dan Quinn, the former Seattle defensive coordinator, was hired to rebuild the group. Quinn hopes his first draft pick, outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., helps improve a dismal pass rush.
The Falcons are expected to be without their top two running backs. Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman are recovering from hamstring injuries, leaving Antone Smith, undrafted rookie Terron Ward and Jerome Smith atop the list of healthy options.
PANTHERS AT BILLS, 7 p.m.
Coach Rex Ryan and the new-look Buffalo Bills – and maybe even newly acquired linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali, who broke New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw with a punch – make their preseason debuts. For all the buzz Ryan, the former Jets coach, has created this offseason, much attention will be on a three-way quarterback competition, with veteran journeyman Matt Cassel scheduled to start.
The Bills claimed Enemkpali on Wednesday, a day after he sucker punched Smith in the Jets’ locker room.
For Carolina, Panthers coach Ron Rivera will be paying close attention to position competitions at receiver and right defensive end. Rookie Devin Funchess is pushing veteran Jerricho Cotchery to start opposite No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Also, Frank Alexander, Wes Horton and Kony Ealy are vying to fill the starting job at end following Greg Hardy’s departure.
GIANTS AT BENGALS, 7:30 p.m.
For the first time in two seasons, the Bengals will have their offense intact, if only for a few series. Tight end Tyler Eifert is back after missing all but the opener last season with elbow and shoulder injuries. Receiver Marvin Jones has returned from a broken foot and ankle injuries that sidelined him for all of last season. The only disappointment for Cincinnati: AJ McCarron is likely to be sidelined by a strained side, a setback in his push to win the No. 2 quarterback job.
The Giants’ overhauled secondary will get its first in-game test after practicing against the Bengals for two days this week.
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, coming off knee surgery, will not play. Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to see playing time. The defensive line will be tested in trying to stop the run and whether it can get pressure on the quarterback without the injured Jason Pierre-Paul.
STEELERS AT JAGUARS, 7:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh gave most of its starters the night off during a 14-3 loss to Minnesota in the Hall of Fame game last Sunday night. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown should play a series or two against Jacksonville, expect the Steelers to put the burden of playing time on youngsters who struggled at times against the Vikings.
The game also will feature the debut of Steelers kicker Garrett Hartley, signed Tuesday to replace the injured Shaun Suisham. Suisham tore ligaments in his left knee while making a tackle against Minnesota and is out for the season.
The Jaguars will be without their top two draft picks in their preseason opener. But quarterback Blake Bortles, who spent the offseason tweaking his mechanics, and many starters are expected to play as much as the entire first quarter.
Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., the third overall selection in the draft, tore a ligament in his left knee during rookie minicamp in May and had season-ending surgery. Running back T.J. Yeldon, the team’s second-round draft pick, will sit out while recovering from a sprained finger on his left hand. Yeldon slammed his hand against a teammate’s helmet during a touchdown run in a scrimmage Saturday and wore a non-contact jersey all week in practice.
RAMS AT RAIDERS, 10 p.m.
The Raiders are set to make their debut under new coach Jack Del Rio with optimism and stability at quarterback for a change.
After switching their starter during the past two preseasons, the Raiders are all-in on second-year QB Derek Carr. They even got him some much-needed help this offseason after he averaged an NFL-low 5.5 yards per attempt while making 16 starts last season.
The Raiders drafted Amari Cooper fourth overall and will pair him with free-agent acquisition Michael Crabtree in hopes that they can find the playmaking receiver lacking since Randy Moss left town almost a decade ago.
The Rams will show off their new starting quarterback in Nick Foles, acquired in an offseason trade with Philadelphia. After a revolving door at quarterback the past two seasons while Sam Bradford dealt with injuries, St. Louis is hoping Foles can give the team enough scoring to support the top-flight defense.
BRONCOS AT SEAHAWKS, 10 p.m.
Finally, the Seahawks get a chance to be on the field and start putting their Super Bowl loss to New England in the past, even if it’s just preseason.
Russell Wilson will likely throw his first pass since Malcolm Butler’s now-famous goal-line interception that preserved the Patriots’ 28-24 victory over Seattle.
And while Wilson will likely play sparingly, Peyton Manning is expected to stay on the sideline.
If there is a specific area to watch for both teams it would be the offensive line. The Broncos are working with a line that includes three players with zero NFL starts: from left to right, rookies Ty Sambrailo and Max Garcia and Matt Paradis, who was on the practice squad all last season.
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