MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Falcons starters got good work in during two joint practices with the Miami Dolphins. Head coach Arthur Smith cut their work week short, keeping most of the out of Saturday's preseason game.
They'll get some reps in next week's game against the Cleveland Browns, balancing well the need for in-game experience and health preservation. That's the most important thing for those with an established role – get to the regular season in one piece.
The motivation's a little different for those on the fringe, who are fighting like heck for one of a precious few open roster spots.
Those who suited up were tested by Miami's A-team, which played the entire first half. The result of a contest with disparate talent was predictable. Miami jumped out to an early lead and cruised to a 37-17 victory at Hard Rock Stadium.
Let's look at some Falcons who stood out in this preseason contest:
QB Feleipe Franks: The undrafted rookie quarterback was expected to play the second half but came in early after AJ McCarron got hurt (more on that later). He was good on his first series, pushing the ball near the goal line. He couldn't cross it despite throwing two catchable balls that weren't caught. He showcased his mobility for a second straight week, and while he wasn't terribly efficient throwing the ball, he was a bit better than last week. You can't necessarily call him good, though. He had a terrible passer rating, and his interception later on wasn't a good look, and almost got returned for a touchdown.
LB Mykal Walker: The second-year linebacker had four tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed in a game that he started and was featured during the first half. He's proving an adept blitzer and someone who can work from sideline to sideline. He's quality injury protection for Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun. That's a good thing to have at two important linebacker spots.
DL Jonathan Bullard: One of the few expected regulars to play in this game, Bullard continues to impress playing up front. He had a sack in this game and another tackle beyond that. He has been a highlight of camp, someone who has come on strong up front. If he keeps making plays, he'll be a regular member of the defensive line rotation.
RT Kaleb McGary: The incumbent starting right tackle played two series on a day where most starters didn't play. He was solid in that role and seems to be the obvious choice to play right tackle during the regular season.
RB Caleb Huntley: The undrafted rookie is in a fight for the fourth running back spot, with competition coming from Javian Hawkins and D'Onta Foreman. He showed a strong rushing style that fits what the Falcons want to do in the running game. It was a good outing for Huntley, including a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, though he did put the ball on the ground.
CB Chris Williamson: Is pushing for a roster spot and capitalizing on increased reps with Kendall Sheffield out with injury. He started opposite Fabian Moreau, a sign that he's in the mix for one of the last roster spots at cornerback. Time will tell if he can secure it.
WR Tajae Sharpe: The veteran receiver has been impressive in recent practices, certainly earning trust and targets from his quarterbacks. He ended up with two catches for 27 yards while playing the first half, but on five targets. Even he'd surely say he should've held on to what would have been a touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks in the red zone.
QB AJ McCarron: The Falcons quarterback left this game during the third offensive series with an injured right knee and did not return. That's bad news for the position group, which now has just two healthy members. Signing a new quarterback seems essential, even if McCarron's injury isn't that bad. He was decent prior to getting hurt, with some crisp passes that didn't always get caught.
Arthur Smith's challenge flag: The Falcons head coach won his first-ever coaching challenge, tossing the red flag to challenge a first quarter catch. It was ruled incomplete on replay and therefore a productive decision. While some may scoff at challenging a preseason play, it's important to rehearse that operation, especially for a coach who hasn't been responsible for making challenges before.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins in the second preseason game of 2021.