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Clark Phillips III an example of how the Falcons develop depth in preparation for times of crisis

Atlanta ruled four players out, designated five others questionable ahead of major NFC South clash with Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons victory over the New York Jets came at a cost. They left MetLife Stadium a bit worse for the wear, with right tackle Kaleb McGary, linebacker Nate Landman and cornerbacks A.J. Terrell and Jeff Okudah all suffering injuries of varying degrees.

Depth was challenged late in a one-score game against the Jets, with reserves playing high-leverage positions where one misstep could spell disaster.

That didn't happen, which was a credit to the players who stepped in and the coaches who work to develop them in practice despite not having many first-team reps to offer during a regular practice week.

Right tackle Storm Norton, cornerbacks Clark Phillips III and Tre Flowers and linebacker Andre Smith all made significant contributions in the Jets win. They might have to do so again against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in a massive NFC South contest at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. A few additional folks might also have to step in and play a big part in this pivotal game.

Complete player availability remained a bit of an unknown on a Friday, though the official injury report offered some clarity. Some news on that document isn't great for the home team and impacts some who finished the Jets game and others who have been out for a while.

McGary, Landman and interior defensive lineman David Onyemata were ruled out against the Bucs. So was defensive lineman LaCale London, who has recently returned from injured reserve.

Terrell, Okudah, center Drew Dalman, receiver Mack Hollins, and cornerback Mike Hughes are questionable.

Even if a number of questionable players play, this is the first time this season the Falcons have dealt with such injury volume. They'll look to their reserves for more production and reliable performance against Tampa Bay.

"It's all about the next man up and, when you go in, all of your teammates are looking for you to be accountable and for you to perform," Norton said. "Whatever it takes to win. That's our mentality."

That's the mentality reserves must have when stepping into major roles, but it takes a lot more than a mindset to prepare for these situations.

Developing second- and third-team players starts back in the spring, with head coach Arthur Smith putting an emphasis on preparing them for a moment when a starter goes down.

That's why the Falcons cross train so many of their people at different spots, so they have at least some experience in a case of emergency. That's why you frequently see reporting during training camp about mixing and matching between starters and reserves. That's often less about camp battles and more about making sure everyone is ready if called upon and players felt a level of comfort working with those they aren't regularly paired with.

That endeavor is less frequent during the season – when game planning often unique strategy, starters need more work with each other – but it still goes on in meeting rooms and on the practice field.

"It is a daily grind," Smith said. "That is your job. I get that, but there's no egos involved. All we're trying to do is make sure we have the best players, and they fit us, and we're working that depth. You try to create scenarios every week to keep that going because it's real. You talk about it from camp, and then when you get into the season, those are subtle moves that pay off."

Phillips' performance is a good example of that. The fourth-round rookie stepped in during the first quarter of the Sunday win and played well. Phillips being first off the bench was somewhat surprising with Flowers available and Dee Alford able to move outside, but coaches like his mix of toughness, talent and confidence and felt comfortable putting him into a big spot.

Faith in a young player was rewarded. Phillips handled himself well despite being frequently matched up with talented Jets receiver Garrett Wilson.

He missed a few tackles but allowed just two receptions for 13 yards on three targets. That's all a plus for someone who has been more focused in the slot. Phillips credits cross training for helping him get ready for the big moment. If you go back to camp, Phillips played outside some and with the first unit, allowing him to get reps against Drake London and Mack Hollins, talents equal to players he had to defend in Week 13.

"As a player, that's all that you can ask for, learning different things so that when you are put in those situations you can do the best you possibly can," the Utah alum said. "Getting reps at different points, in the nickel and outside, helped put me in good position to go make plays."

Maybe Phillips will play a ton against Tampa Bay. Maybe he won't play much defense at all, depending on Terrell's status. He'll be ready for anything, though, because the organization puts time and resources into depth and development and the long-term process of preparation for the moment when a reserve is asked to be the proverbial next man up.

"We talk to our guys all the time that, if you have a jersey on and you're up for game day, you're going to play in the defense," defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. "That's really held true the whole season. We play a lot of guys. It keeps guys fresh at the end of games, and you never know. It is a long season. If you have a nick here or there, the next guy is ready to step up and make a play. (Clark) was a great example of that."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, presented by Gatorade's Fast Twitch.

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