FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Falcons have arrived in South Florida for a mighty big week, ready to conduct joint practices with the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday and Thursday and follow that with a Saturday preseason game at Hard Rock Stadium.
These inter-squad sessions are as valuable as anything on the Falcons summer slate, providing great opportunity to intensify proceedings and thoroughly assess this team as it stands. The Falcons will face a different color and a different scheme while remaining in controlled sessions where no one's tackling to the ground.
Those are three pluses, right there.
"I can't tell you how excited I am about these joint practices, and I appreciate Brian Flores and Dolphins for agreeing to do it," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. "It's really going to help us. There's some things you need to see in the preseason games, and really for our whole team, and then that kind of environment will be big for us."
Frontline starters will play sparingly in preseason games and might never go up against an opponent's best because each team treats the preseason a bit differently. First units will regularly clash on Wednesday and Thursday, producing invaluable practice tape that will show the team's strengths, weaknesses and how they stack up in specific scenarios. That is, as long as emotions stay on the field. They often boil over, but professionalism will help the Falcons accelerate their progress.
"You can kind of script the situations you want to work.," Smith said. "You get some red-zone work. You go down there and script some two-minute stuff. Get all the situational third down. It just helps you control it and you get more shots at it than you would in a game. I mean obviously, if things go bad, you may only get one shot down in the red zone. You may only get one field goal attempt, a few punts. So that's where it's really important because you can control all of those situations."
That will provide a good look at the entire squad, though there are three areas of particular interest this week.
1. The running game
The Falcons didn't get a good look at their run game in last week's preseason opener. They couldn't stay on schedule or out of drive-killing penalties to find the rhythm required to run the ball regularly. They need to do so against the Dolphins, especially during the preseason game. Mike Davis should see some quality reps during the joint practices, and he might get into the game as well. He's a guy to keep an eye on all week.
We need to see blocking fits and runners churning until they get taken to the ground. That's also how we'll know who steps in after Davis. Cordarrelle Patterson will have his unique role, but there are several reserves bunched together who need opportunities to separate themselves. That needs to happen this week, especially after it didn't against the Titans.
"I really didn't think that was a fair assessment of the running backs with Caleb [Huntley], or Hawk [Javian Hawkins] or [D'Onta] Foreman," Smith said. "We just didn't get enough carries, I mean we were in a lot of second-and-longs, kind of forced a couple runs just to get a couple in there. We've got to do a better job of staying on track so we can get an evaluation of him running. And then obviously third down will be critical in the pass game, protection wise and what they can do free releasing from the backfield."
Take a look at some of the best Falcons fits in this gallery, presented by Delta. The team heads to Miami for joint practices with the Dolphins before Preseason Week 2 on Saturday.
2. Offensive line
This front is in too much flux. We all value competition during the summer, but the line needs time to build cohesion up front. We're locked in at left tackle (Jake Matthews), center (Matt Hennessy) and right guard (Chris Lindstrom). We're almost there at right guard. A strong week would help Kaleb McGary could secure a spot he has owned the past two seasons. Left guard remains in flux, with Josh Andrews, Drew Dalman and Jalen Mayfield all in play. Andrews could well lock up a top spot with a strong week, though he must fare better than last week's preseason opener. He simply wasn't good, opening the door a crack for young players to sneak into the first-team discussion.
It will also be important to narrow in on a swing tackle and guard preference as well, eventually landing on the eight or, more likely, nine players who will make the 53-man roster.
3. Rush and coverage
The Falcons created quarterback pressure against Tennessee using all levels of the defense. They'll need the defensive line to handle business on its own, especially with those who will see regular snaps during the regular season. Dante Fowler should see significant action in practice. Grady Jarrett's always someone to watch. We'll have to see if less proven commodities can get into the backfield efficiently, especially rookie Adetukunbo Ogendeji. We could find out if he's ready to be a rotational piece in short shrift.
The back end has looked better, thought Miami will provide a serious test for Fabian Moreau, slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver and safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris. Competition's tight for reserve roles, with several good defensive backs in contention. How they fare this week could go a long way in creating a hierarchy for roster spots.