5 things to watch when Dolphins host Falcons

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter / AJC

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Falcons running back Mike Davis addresses the team's practice with the Dolphins and what he believes he needs to accomplish before season start.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter / AJC

McCarron to get another start, followed by Franks

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Falcons coach Arthur Smith, pleased with the work from the joint practices Wednesday and Thursday between his team and the Dolphins, will rest quarterback Matt Ryan and most of the starters against Miami at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in the second exhibition game for both teams.

AJ McCarron will get the start, as the coaching staff is giving him a chance to bounce back from a poor showing in the 23-3 loss to Tennessee. Feleipe Franks will close the game.

The Falcons will use the game to get reserves and the younger players better evaluated before the Falcons must cut from 85 to 80 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The Falcons plan to play all of their starters against the Browns in the exhibition finale at 8 p.m. Aug. 29.

Here are five things that Smith and his staff are set to watch closely in the game:

1. Left guard: Rookie Jalen Mayfield started at right tackle last week against the Titans.

After a poor showing by Josh Andrews, Mayfield received a lot of his work at left guard. He was in with the first-team offense when they made the last drive of the dual practice with the Dolphins on Thursday.

“I always look at it as a opportunity in the NFL,” Smith said of his shaky left guard position.

Mayfield, who was drafted in the third round out of Michigan, played mostly right tackle in college.

With the return of Kaleb McGary from the physically-unable-to-perform list, the Falcons have been playing him at right tackle.

2. Defensive shuffle: The Falcons are not expected to play their defensive starters for extended time.

Last week, Dorian Etheridge, an undrafted linebacker from Louisville, had 13 tackles while projected starting linebackers Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, Dante Fowler and Steven Means did not play.

“A lot of new guys, new faces,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We are just trying to see where guys can fit in. ... We have some nice guys going in there to make some nice plays and get a lot of tackles and stuff.”

Projected starting safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris did not play. That allowed younger players such as Jaylinn Hawkins to get extended time.

“You saw Hawk get a nice sack in that first game,” Jarrett said. “Etheridge had like 100 tackles. So, it’s awesome to see the young guys out there and have the opportunity to compete. Whoever it may be, undrafted, drafted, we are excited for a guy just fighting for a nice roster spot on the team.”

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Falcons safety Dwayne Johnson after practice on Tuesday in Flowery Branch. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

Falcons safety Dwayne Johnson after practice on Tuesday in Flowery Branch. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

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Falcons safety Dwayne Johnson after practice on Tuesday in Flowery Branch. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

3. Safety alert: Safety Dwayne Johnson, undrafted out of San Diego State, is a rookie to watch.

He played 38 defensive snaps (57%) and 10 special-teams snaps (37%) against the Titans. He had four tackles and one assisted tackle on special teams.

“There are some things we can fix,” Johnson said. “I need to improve on certain things like situations, situational football and things like that going forward. There was some good. I got to make some good tackles and show a little bit of my play style. I hope to keep improving and stacking the days.”

The Falcons are revamping the safety position, and there are openings after Harmon and Harris. The Falcons drafted safety Richie Grant in the second round, and Hawkins has played well. If Johnson can’t make it to the 53-man roster, he could end up on the 16-man practice squad.

“Just going out there to make as many plays as I can in camp, showing them who I am as a player,” Johnson said. “Physicality, speed and intelligence. I’m just trying to make the team.”

Johnson, who’s 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, played four seasons at San Diego State after redshirting in 2016. He was a Pro Football Focus honorable-mention All-American after the 2019 season.

He finished his career with 148 tackles, four tackles for losses, a sack and an interception.

“The transition to the NFL, the speed of the play, the speed of the receivers, the speed of the QB, just trying to get used to that,” Johnson said. “Up my speed, my intelligence, reads and things like that.”

4. Rushing attack: Falcons running back Mike Davis, who didn’t play in the exhibition opener, said he’s ready to play if needed.

“If (Smith) wants me to play in the first quarter, I will play in the first quarter,” Davis said. “Whatever Coach thinks I need, I will be in there.”

Davis, who’s entering his seventh season in the league, wouldn’t say if felt he needed a certain amount of exhibition-game action.

“I can’t tell you there’s a number,” Davis said.

Whether Davis plays or it’s the other backs, Smith wants to get a better assessment of the rushing attack against the Dolphins.

Caleb Huntley made the start against the Titans and rushed six times for 18 yards. Javian Hawkins had five carries for two yards, and D’Onta Foreman had three rushes for 10 yards. Smith wants more than 14 carries for 30 yards from the running backs.

Smith must determine if he wants to play Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Qadree Ollison also is available and is expected to see his first exhibition action.

5. Penalties: The Falcons committed 11 penalties for 99 yards against the Titans. Cutting down the pre-snap penalties will be a priority.

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