MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — With the teams sitting out more than 30 players each, the Falcons and Dolphins took a good look at players who make up the back end of their 90-man rosters.

The Dolphins went to the playoffs last season with a 9-8 record in part because of their depth. The Falcons know they must improve their depth heading into the 2023 season.

“Well, it’s a long season,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “The old NFL was pretty drastic; practice squads were smaller. You didn’t have standard elevations. The (exhibition) season was a little bit longer. You need all these guys as they continue to develop.”

The Falcons came out of the game relatively unscathed.

“We’ve got a couple soft-tissue things that we’ll have to check out that happened in the first half with (wide receiver) Frank Darby and (cornerback) Mike Hughes,” Smith said. “Nothing major that they told me about right away, so we’ll see what it looks like (Saturday).”

Here are the five things we learned from the victory over the Dolphins:

1. Hellams’ form tackles: Safety DeMarcco Hellams, who was drafted in the seventh round (224th overall) this year out of Alabama, put some nice and hard form tackles on Miami ball carriers.

He led the Falcons with seven tackles and stayed down on the field after a hard hit on a ball carrier in the fourth quarter. He returned to the game.

The defense was gashed for gains of 35 and 39 yards by the Dolphins, but it stiffened in the red zone three times.

Hellams ended the Dolphins’ first scoring threat with an interception in the end zone.

“It’s the same thing we saw it in Alabama – the guy is around the football,” Smith said. “He’s a good football player.”

The moment wasn’t too big for Hellams, who led Alabama with 108 tackles last season.

In his four collegiate seasons, Hellams had 255 tackles (7.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks and four interceptions over 40 games.

“It was my first NFL game, but the field is still 53 yards wide, 100 yards long – it’s just a different uniform, a different team,” said Hellams, who played 61 defensive snaps (92%).

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

2. Woodside’s poise: The Falcons plucked Logan Woodside off the Titans’ practice squad last season after Marcus Mariota essentially quit the team after he was benched.

Woodside guided the offense to one touchdown drive, and he had a couple of other promising drives.

The Falcons must decide if they want to keep three quarterbacks.

Woodside looked like he could help the Falcons in case of an emergency. The standard for the backup is “can he get you through a game if something happens.”

Taylor Heinicke has proved he can do that in Carolina and Washington.

Woodside, who played at Toledo, was 14-of-23 passing for 146 yards. He had a passer rating of 79.3. He also was sacked four times for a loss of 21 yards.

“It was good to just go out there and execute,” Woodside said.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

3. Alford’s big return: Hughes was listed as the No. 1 punt returner on the depth chart. After Dee Alford’s electrifying 79-yard return for a touchdown, he’s now the leader to replace Avery Williams, who is on injured reserve.

Mathew Sexton also saw action as the punt returner.

Alford picked up a key block from Darren Hall before he reversed field and shot up the right sideline.

“Dee’s one of the many cool stories we have on our team,” Smith said. “He’s a vocal guy and went to Tusculum, he went to the CFL and got here, proved he’s a legit NFL player. So, (he’s) another guy in our program who all he does is work. Continues to improve.”

4. Sack attack: Outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie, who was a second-round pick in the 2022 draft, used a spin move to get free and sack Dolphins quarterback Skylar Thompson.

He was the highest Falcons draft pick to play in the game. He had three tackles, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery over 25 defensive snaps (38%).

“Well, I think being that we are kind of doing new things this year with being asked to be more versatile on the defense, I kind of needed those reps,” Ebiketie said. “It’s one thing doing it in practice, but you kind of need those live reps to kind of get the experience to when we get to the regular season, you have a step ahead.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

5. Ground game: Running backs Godwin Igwebuike and Carlos Washington handled the rushing duties.

Igwebuike rushed 13 times for 70 yards and had a nice 11-yard touchdown run on a cutback.

Washington rushed 12 times for 27 yards and caught three passes for 19 yards.

“It was smooth,” Igwebuike said. “It was fun to finally get out there again. Was at the cribio (his house) about two weeks ago, so it’s funny how quickly things can change.”

Atlanta Falcons' Dee Alford (20) returns a punt for a touchdown in the second half of a preseason NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons running back Godwin Igwebuike (42) is brought down by Miami Dolphins cornerback Eli Apple (33) after a short gain in the first half of a preseason an NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

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