Falcons vs. Dolphins: Five things to watch
AUG 24, 2012 11:09a ET
The week itself is modeled after a regular-season week in terms of the kind and sequences of the practices. The coaches and players do install some game plans, but, in fact, it's not exactly the full-on equal of a regular-season game.
It's still preseason. With that in mind, here are five things to look out for in Friday's game:
1. Lamar Holmes. The Falcons' third-round pick has not played so far in the preseason because of a foot injury that sidelined him for most of the offseason. On Friday, he will make his debut, which this week suddenly took on more urgency. That's because the Falcons announced on Monday that Will Svitek, who started 10 games at left tackle in 2011, was lost for the season with an upper-arm injury. As a result, coach Mike Smith said Holmes, out of Southern Miss, will receive a good deal of playing time.
Svitek was slated as a reserve, but the Falcons now enter the season with backup tackles who have never played a down at that position in the NFL. That's not much of a safety net at one of the most important positions on the offense, as Sam Baker, projected as the starter there, has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Baker, a first-round pick in 2008 who started as a rookie, has failed to start 22 games over his first four seasons, mostly because of injury.
At 6-foot-6, 333 pounds, Holmes weighs a good deal more than Baker (301) or Svitek (308). If he can use that weight to his advantage, it will be a plus. If he is too slow to catch up to the speed rushers gunning for the quarterback's blind side, he will have plenty of work to do in practice to get ready.
With a lot riding on this season, the Falcons might want to look into the free-agent market if Holmes fares poorly. Already, the New York Jets are reportedly working out players to replace starting right tackle Wayne Hunter, providing potential competition if the Falcons elect to go in that direction.
2. Akeem Dent. Dent, who is projected as the team's starting middle linebacker, missed a week, including last Thursday's preseason game, with a concussion. That's significant because Dent was a rookie last season who played almost exclusively on special teams and has much to learn – especially with a new defensive coordinator (his fourth in four seasons dating back to his last two seasons at the University of Georgia).
But defensive coordinator Mike Nolan seems pleased with Dent's progress nonetheless.
"He's doing a good job," Nolan said. "Obviously, he missed a week and that didn't help any. He still has this week and we'll see what he can do."
Nolan said Dent missed two installation sessions but participated in the meetings involved with them and watched those practices. Nolan said the most important thing for Dent is to show he is "playing well and gaining confidence." Nolan said that also goes for the entire defense.
3. The running game. Michael Turner rushed for minus-3 yards last week on three carries. He says it's no big deal since it's only preseason.
The Falcons have a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter and Koetter doesn't seem as if he will be as glued to the run as the Falcons were in the past. Each year, questions arise as to whether Turner's huge number of carries from the previous season will diminish his effectiveness. So far, that has not happened.
Now, he also faces questions of age (he's 30) and one local sports talk radio host has questioned his weight (247 pounds) – a subject that was an issue in 2009, Turner's least effective season with the Falcons.
Turner only has one more season left on his contract. If he looks as if he's headed downhill – or simply that he doesn't fit the new offense well enough any more – the Falcons could cut him next season with minimal salary cap issues.
For now, that's a long way away and a good showing in the preseason would, as Nolan said, instill confidence.
4. The fullback situation. A position that was rock-solid stable from 2007 until last season with Ovie Mughelli, a Pro Bowler in 2010, has now become something of a question mark. Mughelli blew out his knee against Detroit last season and the Falcons replaced him with Mike Cox.
In the offseason, the Falcons cut Mughelli, who had a big contract, and drafted Bradie Ewing in the fifth round. Ewing, unfortunately, blew out his knee in the first preseason game.
The battle now is between Cox and Lousaka Polite, whom the Falcons signed on Aug. 11. In Koetter's offense, it seems the fullback will take on greater importance in pass-catching but also, possibly, in running. (Mughelli ran the ball 30 times in five seasons in Atlanta.)
If the Falcons were happy with Cox, out of Georgia Tech, then why would they have drafted Ewing? The same argument goes for bringing in the nine-year veteran Polite after Ewing went down; Polite was on New England's roster last season during the playoffs and Super Bowl. With limited practice time, Polite caught a touchdown pass in his preseason debut last week.
These last two games could prove decisive in who wins the starting job and a roster spot.
5. Dominique Davis. The Falcons' rookie fourth-string quarterback dazzled last week in almost rallying the team to victory in the final seconds. He has especially looked good in comparison to the team's second- and third-string quarterbacks, Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson, respectively, who have played unspectacularly at best.
Can Davis, undrafted out of East Carolina, show a level of consistency against Miami? If so, will he force the Falcons to keep him on the active roster, thereby keeping three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster – a move they showed last year they were reluctant to do for a player who will only be used in an emergency situation?
If nothing else, Davis has added a healthy dose of excitement to the final minutes of preseason games, which tend to be drawn-out and tedious.