Arthur Smith: Everyone who’s healthy will play in Falcons’ exhibition opener

Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Saturday that every healthy player on the roster will play in the exhibition opener Friday night in Detroit. He didn’t share any details regarding snap counts.

“I promise you, everyone who is healthy will play,” Smith said. Asked for clarification regarding players such as Cordarrelle Patterson, whose spot and role are well-established, Smith reiterated: “If they’re healthy, they will play. … How long they play, I’m not going to give (that away). We’ll keep that in-house.”

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The starters likely won’t play much in the exhibition opener, perhaps a series or so, but the Falcons have enough competition across the roster – not just starting jobs but for depth roles – that the three-game exhibition season should be intriguing. Saturday was the team’s final practice before it shifts into a more game-like schedule ahead of the exhibition opener. Smith praised the physicality of Saturday morning’s sessions.

Another defensive tackle hurt

Defensive tackle Bryce Rodgers was injured during 11-on-11s, going down and holding his knee. He was helped to the cart on the sidelines. Smith didn’t have an update after practice. The Falcons are thin at defensive tackle after Vincent Taylor ruptured his Achilles.

Florida-on-Florida encounter

The highlight of Saturday was tight end Feleipe Franks catching the ball and trucking cornerback Teez Tabor into the end zone. Franks was visibly amped, and his teammates responded with cheers and yells. Franks and Tabor are former college teammates who overlapped at Florida in 2016. Franks is having a productive camp as a tight end and part-time quarterback.

“You have to give Feleipe a lot of credit,” Smith said of Franks’ position change. “Feleipe is a special guy. You saw today what he does. Going in there playing multiple positions, that’s rare. I try to temper my expectations, but we’ll see where it goes.”

Pitts dominant

Tight end Kyle Pitts stood out Saturday, hauling in two touchdowns near the left corner of the end zone with safety Richie Grant trailing in coverage. Pitts is the Falcons’ most talented player, and he showed why throughout the practice, from his hulking physical presence to his ability to separate despite his size (6-foot-6, 245 pounds).

Quarterback play on the day

Marcus Mariota made some nice throws in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s, including the touchdowns by Pitts. He had some misses – safety Jaylinn Hawkins secured an interception on one, the defense’s only pick Saturday – but was the better of the two signal-callers. He also showed his mobility on bootlegs, evading rushers to find an open target. Rookie receiver Drake London made a nice sliding catch on one play.

Desmond Ridder showed his inexperience, at times taking too long to get rid of the ball. His placement also was a bit erratic, resulting in some incompletions and missed opportunities. He rebounded to make some decisive throws later in the day, so it was the usual growing pains with encouraging flashes for the third-round rookie.

First-team offensive line

The Falcons’ starting offensive line was left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Elijah Wilkinson, center Matt Hennessy, right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary. With guard Jalen Mayfield dealing with a lower-back issue, Wilkinson can further establish himself the favorite for the vacant guard spot. Hennessy is competing with Drew Dalman for the starting center nod.

How long is Smith comfortable with waiting to announce his starting offensive line? “As long as it takes,” he said Saturday. “At some point, somebody will emerge. But I’m not really worried about the timeline.”