MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Starters were hard to find on either side of the Falcons preseason opener against the host Miami Dolphins.
No shocker there. Not after two spirited joint practices in pads earlier this week. Virtual roster locks got plenty of good work in during a safer, more structured environment, leaving little logical reason to trot them out in the first of three preseason games. While fans might've been slightly disappointed to miss seeing their top players, there's no point creating injury risk at this point. That certainly outweighs any other motivation to play them.
Head coach Arthur Smith said frontline Falcons, most of them, anyway, will play at some point in the preseason. That wasn't this day, opening up opportunities for others looking for roles or roster spots.
Let's take a look at Falcons who stood out in this contest though, fair warning, you won't see offensive lineman in the list. Too tough to evaluate live. (Sorry, fella). Now on to guys who stood out in a 19-3 result:
S DeMarcco Hellams: Unlike NFL Draft picks taken higher, seventh-round selections are never a lock to make the 53-man roster. Those guys have to go earn a spot on the 53-man roster or the practice squad by showing consistency and, every now and then, making a splash play. The Alabama alum made one in end zone on Friday night, intercepted Dolphins quarterback Mike White in the end zone on a ball deflected by Tre Flowers.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins during Preseason Week 1.
Hellams returned the pick 15 yards to kill a previously promising Dolphins series. He made a few other head's up tackles in a long stretch of playing time, as Hellams continues to vie for a roster spot among the safeties. With Jessie Bates, Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins as seeming locks, there might only be one more spot in the position group, maybe another for a core special teams player. The Falcons got a long look at Hellams, who essentially played the entire game on defense. He made a big hit late and was shaken up on the play, needing attention from trainers for an injury, but he returned to the game
QB Logan Woodside: Smith said earlier this week that he needs to figure out whether the Falcons will keep a third quarterback on the roster. There are some new benefits to it, with a signal caller able to be designated inactive but enter the game if the first two quarterbacks go down. That would be of benefit in a catastrophic situation, but is it worth taking away from another position group, one that could contribute on special teams?
Woodside gave coaches plenty to ponder in that regard, with a strong performance on Friday night. While it came against Dolphins understudies, Woodside was on-time and accurate. He was 14-of-23 overall for 146 yards, stats that didn't include an excellent deep shot to Josh Ali the receiver didn't catch.
Woodside started well, going 8-for-9 for 73 yards in the first half. The performance wasn't all positive, but he showed well overall despite surely preferring to take some throws back.
RB Godwin Igwebuike: It's tough to predict whether the Falcons will carry four running backs on their 53-man roster. If that's it, Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson are the guys. If there is a fourth, Igwebuike and Carlos Washington Jr. could battle it out for that opening or as injury protection on the practice squad.
Igwebuike was an in-camp signing but has made a solid early impression, showing some juice in practices and in this preseason contest against Miami. He scored the Falcons' first touchdown of the preseason on an 11-yard run early in the second quarter. He was efficient as heck in the early going, averaging 7.8 yards per carry in the first half. That's a good start for someone working to make in-roads toward a longer-term position with the organization. In addition to a high carry count (13 rushes for 70 yards), he also worked on special teams in the second half, another way to stand out in an attempt to make the squad, as a coverage man and returner.
Red-zone defense: Yeah, I know. This is less of a "who" than a "what." I'm okay with that because, A. my story, my rules, and, B. it'll allow me to highlight more folks this way. The Dolphins went 0-for-3 in the red zone in the first half, with big-time stops each time. The previously mentioned Hellams pick came in the end zone. Then Breon Borders' pass breakup shut Miami down on 4th-and-2 from the Falcons' 3-yard line. Then Joe Gaziano tipped a pass that fell incomplete from the Falcons' 6. While Miami may have taken field goals in a normal game, keep an opponent out of the end zone is always a plus.
S Lukas Denis: The first-year pro out of Boston College had an excellent Wednesday, with multiple pass breakups in the final joint practice with the Dolphins. He followed that up with an interception in the second half of Friday's game. The throw wasn't great, but Denis was in good position to make an opportunistic play.
CB/PR Dee Alford: Dee Alford didn't play much defense, if any, on this night, but he made a case to be the Falcons punt returner. Why. He completed an excellent 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, using quicks and good vision to skate through the coverage and found an angle to the sideline he sped down for a touchdown.
CB Breon Borders: The veteran defensive back had himself a night, with five tackles, one for a loss, one interceptions and three passes defended. One of those pass breakups came on 4th down in the red zone early in the game. Borders had a pick six late in the game, when he corralled a ball off a receiver's hands and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. He's another player with a tough road to the 53-man roster -- he also must serve a two-game suspension to start the season -- but this extends a strong camp thus far.