FLOWERY BRANCH, GA — Matt Ryan and the rest of the offensive starters finally got a chance Friday night to see what they could do with a little time.
Up until Friday night's 16-6 win over Miami, the Falcons' first-team offense had seen just a handful of series against Atlanta's previous preseason opponents. But with the third game of the preseason being the traditional game when starters play the most, Ryan and the offense were able to see what they could put together for a little more than a half of football.
The starters' time ended with mixed results — some good things, some things that still need to be worked on. What Ryan was looking for most, however, was progression, and he said he saw a lot of that.
"I think it's a gradual thing," Ryan said after Monday's practice. "We're working on different things at different points in training camp, and while we would have liked to have been a little more productive the other night, I still feel like we're moving at a high level. We're close. We need to continue to tighten things up and make sure we're executing at the right time, and that starts next weekend (against Pittsburgh to start the regular season)."
The Falcons' offense was able to string together some impressive drives, one of which resulted in an 18-yard touchdown strike to Roddy White.
Finding a rhythm, however, is something that Ryan said will come with time. One of the biggest things that the offense has going for it is that the system feels more comfortable for most of the players who have been with the Falcons since head coach Mike Smith was hired three years ago.
It's even getting a little easier for players who haven't.
"Individually, without question. It's a no-brainer as far as how comfortable I am with the offense and with the players on the team," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "But I think as an offense, too, we're all getting on the same page. Matt's probably the key to everything. He's more comfortable. He knows what plays he likes.
"He can say, 'Hey, I'm not too comfortable with this play,' or he can go up to a guy and say, 'When you come out of this break, I need you out.' So I'm seeing a lot more communication out of him as far as that goes."
Ryan, however, is a tough critic on himself. He sees areas where he needs to make improvement, and he said those things are starting to come together as he becomes more aware of what his weaknesses are.
And he understands that, if the Falcons want to see a lot of success this year, those things have to be strengths by Week 1.
"I think the biggest thing is to just maintain good footwork within the pocket, especially when there's pass rush around," he said. "Being good inside the pocket, that's something that comes with being back in the flow of things. I thought Miami did a good job with the pass rush the other night. We stepped up and we started to get a little better.
"We had some opportunities — an inch here or an inch there — but if we want to be the kind of football team we want to be, you can't be close. You've got to go out there and do it."
Dunta plans to play: Cornerback Dunta Robinson had a tough decision to make just before the Falcons were set to face the Dolphins. He had been working back from a tight hamstring that began bothering him near the start of training camp, and he finally felt that, if he needed to, he could play.
In the end, however, he decided to take another week to himself. The decision was a tough one to make, and one that disappointed him to make, but in the long run, it might have been better to err on the side of caution once again.
"I went to see the doctor and just had a tad bit of soreness in it and he said just give it another week," Robinson said of how the decision was made. "Honestly, it was the best thing I did because now it feels much better. Not rushing it was a good thing. Just coming out here getting focused and still getting the mental reps was what I had been doing. Now, I've been out here running around a little bit, so it's time to put it on the field."
That's exactly what he plans to do. Robinson said he will play in Thursday night's preseason finale at Jacksonville. Smith hasn't yet decided the extent of Robinson's involvement in the game, but it looks like he's finally going to be able to step on the field for the first time in a Falcons uniform.
He has been anxious to do so. Being held out of the first two weeks and then having to decide to sit out against Miami has been difficult on the veteran, especially when he thinks about everything he's missed since he started sitting out of practices.
Even with so much time lost, Robinson is not the least bit concerned about his readiness for the season.
"This ain't my first rodeo. This is my seventh year, so I'm not worried at all," he said. "It's just a different uniform. That's the only difference. I've just got to come out here and translate the things I've done on the practice field into the game. I'm going out there to get work. I'm going out there to get my technique straight, get my feet straight. I'm just going out there to compete, so it'll be a lot of fun."
Cuts are coming: The Falcons will have to make the first of two cuts by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday when the roster needs to be trimmed to 75 players. Smith expects to make those decisions at some point Tuesday.
The final round of cuts needs to be done by Saturday, which makes Thursday's game against Jacksonville pivotal for players trying to earn a coveted roster spot.
Some areas Smith plans to focus on during Thursday's game are special teams, linebackers and defensive tackles.
"I think all three of those areas are going to be areas that we need to watch," Smith said. "I think that really for us, we want to go down to Jacksonville and evaluate a number of guys. We've got a number of guys that are fighting for roster spots. A lot of the roster spots are going to be predicated on how they can contribute on special teams. So, our special teams play is going to be very important and guys are going to get a lot more opportunities to play on those situations in this game."