FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons still expect Kemal Ishmael will open the season as the fill-in starter at strong safety even though he’ll miss his third straight preseason game this week.
Coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday Ishmael won’t play in Thursday night’s final preseason game against Jacksonville. Ishmael, returning from a shoulder sprain, practiced on Monday and Tuesday but won’t be able to replace injured rookie starter Keanu Neal this week as had been hoped.
Neal is expected to miss at least the first two regular-season games after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Monday.
Quinn said Ishmael should have no limitations next week.
“He practiced the last two days and he’s just not quite ready with the time off that he’s missed,” Quinn said, adding Ishmael would have played this week “if it was a regular game.”
Newly signed veteran safety Deshon Goldson will play against the Jaguars after quickly learning the defense.
“He did a good job this week in terms of learning and applying it,” Quinn said. “We won’t overload him but we definitely want to give him some work.”
Quinn stressed on Sunday that Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro selection with the 49ers who started 15 games with the Redskins last season, was signed to play behind Neal and Ishmael.
Ishmael said Tuesday he was ready to play when needed.
“I’m feeling good, feeling real comfortable out there on the defense,” Ishmael said.
Ishmael, entering his fourth season with the Falcons, is preparing for a familiar backup role — assuming Neal makes a full recovery from his knee injury.
Ishmael made five starts in 2015 and a combined 15 in 36 games the last three years.
“It’s all about selflessness,” Ishmael said of his role. “It’s bigger than me. It’s a team thing. …Whatever role they want me to fill, that’s what I’m going to do and I’m going to be happy with it.”
Wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle), defensive end Adrian Clayborn (shoulder) and running back Brandon Wilds (knee) also won’t play this week. Quinn said rookie wide receiver Devin Fuller (shoulder) will be placed on injured reserve.
Kicker Matt Bryant will return after missing two games with muscle tightness in his leg. Running back Terron Ward will return from an ankle sprain to play behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Quinn said the final preseason game will be a “really fun night for the guys” as players compete for the final roster and practice-squad spots.
Such starters as quarterback Matt Ryan should have extremely limited time as the focus is on younger players.
“That’s why it’s a fun night for us coaches to see the competitiveness,” Quinn said. “You get a chance to see who wants to go for it in the very biggest way. It’s another opportunity to shine and do that.”
NOTES: Quinn said he talked in a team meeting about the 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit for the national anthem before a preseason game. Quinn said he wanted to make sure players consult teammates before taking any similar action “to make sure everything is about the team, especially when we’re at a ballgame as a team.”