The third exhibition game for any team is typically viewed as the most important game of the preseason because the starters remain in the game past halftime and it’s the best gauge of how a team will fare once the regular season starts. For a few Falcons players, Friday night’s game vs. Miami represents the first time they’ll see significant time this entire preseason.
Not only are coaches worried about acclimating injured players into the gameplan, but they are also concerned about snapping a 7-game preseason losing streak, the longest in the NFL. The last time the Falcons won a preseason game was on Aug. 27, 2010, with a 16-6 victory over the Dolphins. Atlanta will also focus on finishing drives in the redzone and establishing their rushing game, something the team has struggled with in each of its two preseason games.
1. Akeem Dent, LB
The projected starting MLB suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the first preseason game against Baltimore and consequently missed Atlanta’s Week 2 game vs. Cincinnati. It will be his first game back after passing the league’s concussion protocol policy. Dent suffered the concussion on punt coverage but coach Mike Smith defended the decision to play the second-year linebacker on special teams, claiming he needed to prepare for the season. It will be interesting to see what Smith opts to do since his number one goal is to enter the regular season as healthy as possible. Dent will get thrown right into the fray as he’ll be responsible for shadowing Reggie Bush, who had 43 catches and more than 1,000 yards rushing last year out of the Dolphin backfield.
2. Michael Turner, RB
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said that the coaches were consciously limiting Turner’s carries this preseason in order to keep him injury-free and healthy for a possible playoff run deep into the season. That would explain why the Falcons have the fifth fewest rushing yards of any team this preseason, averaging just 76 yards per game. Friday night would seem to be the logical time for establishing the Falcons run game and balancing out the pass-heavy offense. Keep an eye on how the Falcons utilize Turner out of the backfield as a receiving target for Matt Ryan as well.
3. Lamar Holmes, LT
The Falcons’ third round pick in the 2012 draft has missed both preseason games and a significant amount of training camp while recovering from a broken toe. Friday night will be his first game with the Falcons. Atlanta isn’t quite sure what it has yet in the backup LT, but it does need to see if he’s a viable replacement at the position. Starting LT Sam Baker had a shaky season last year with back injuries and his backup, Will Svitek, was recently lost for the season with an upper arm injury. Enter Holmes, the untested rookie out of Southern Mississippi. With how much coach Mike Smith has shifted around the offensive line this preseason, don’t be surprised to see Holmes take reps with the first team.
Injury update: Safety Shann Sillinger will miss Friday night’s game vs. Miami with a foot injury, according to coach Mike Smith. That should open the door for sixth-round pick Charles Mitchell to see more time behind starters William Moore and Thomas DeCoud.
DT Corey Peters, who’s missed most of preseason with an undisclosed foot injury, will miss Friday’s game, as well. He was initially supposed to return before the end of training camp but his return date is now unspecified.
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