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Falcons vs. Dolphins takeaways: Offense starts fast; De'Vondre Campbell growing into role

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Matt Ryan said he was focused on starting fast this preseason, and he helped the Falcons' offense do just that.

Ryan was a perfect three-for-three on Atlanta's first possession against the Miami Dolphins, which covered 36 yards and culminated in a 15-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman. It was a strong opening drive from the Falcons, and key players like Austin Hooper and Mohamed Sanu were involved early.


Atlanta's first drive was the only one for Ryan and a few of the other offensive starters, but it was just the beginning for most of the Falcons' roster. The preseason is an important time for evaluations, and there were plenty of players competing and battling on Thursday night.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the Falcons' 20-23 loss to the Dolphins: 1. Starting offense doesn't skip a beat

We've already touched on this, but it bears repeating that the first-team offense looked crisp on its opening drive. A big 39-yard punt return by Andre Roberts set the Falcons up on the 36-yard line, and they finished the job.

For those fans who were apprehensive about a change at offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian showed a nice mixture of run, pass and play-action to start the game. 2. There are a few options in the return game

Atlanta is evaluating its options at kick and punt returner this preseason, and there were some memorable moments in that aspect of the game on Thursday.

Roberts started things off with his 39-yard punt return, and he was listed as the team's starting returner on the first unofficial depth chart. There are a few players battling for that job, however, including receivers Marvin Hall, Josh Magee and Reggie Davis.

Hall had four kickoff returns, gaining 88 yards against Miami and fielded one punt for 26 yards, but he fumbled the ball on a kick return in the fourth quarter. Magee returned just one punt for 9 yards, and Davis had a nice punt return called back due to a penalty.

Hall also had a positive showing on kick coverage, downing a punt at the 1-yard line.

3. Campbell headlines a good night for the linebackers

De'Vondre Campbell's athleticism was apparent last season, and he has worked hard to improve his game during the offseason as he transitions to his new role at SAM linebacker. While he is expected to have more opportunities as a pass rusher this year, Campbell showed he can make plays in coverage.

Early in the second quarter, Campbell stepped in front of Brandon Doughty's intended receiver, reached back to knock the ball up into the air and came down with an interception.

Campbell's interception was part of a good overall night from Atlanta's linebackers. 4. Ward and Hill get plenty of action at running back

With Freeman and Tevin Coleman firmly established as one of the top running back duos in the NFL, there was plenty of work for Terron Ward and Brian Hill against the Dolphins.

Splitting time for much of the game, Ward and Hill continued their competition for the Falcons' third running back spot. Both players had good moments, but it was Ward who managed to break off a big run. On Atlanta's final possession of the first half, Ward found a huge hole off the right side and gained 26 yards. Three plays later, he scored on a 3-yard run, receiving help from newly-converted tackle T.J. Tialavea on the perimeter.

Ward finished the game with 48 yards and the touchdown on 11 carries, while Hill gained 10 yards on nine carries. 5. Young receivers continue to show potential

One of Atlanta's greatest strengths is the depth at receiver, but there are some interesting young players fighting for a potential roster spot this preseason.

Davis, Hall and Magee are probably the names fans have heard about the most, but Anthony Dable and Deante Burton are also in the mix. Davis led the way with 43 yards on two catches, but he had a nice catch-and-run touchdown that was called back due to a penalty. Dable contributed 32 yards on three catches, and Hall had two catches for 23 yards.

To read more about the battle at receiver, click here. 6. Meyer has good showing at kicker

Matt Bryant, the Falcons' all-time leading scorer, is in no danger of losing his job as the team's kicker, but Mike Meyer had a memorable night kicking the football.

Meyer hit 30-yard field goal midway through the third quarter and followed that up with a 53-yard conversion on the following drive. Bryant missed his only attempt of the night, a 47-yarder to start the second quarter.   7. What's next

The Falcons will return to Flowery Branch and continue their training camp work. Atlanta will travel to Pittsburgh and face the Steelers on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 4 p.m. ET.

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