Falcons’ Mykal Walker filled in nicely for Deion Jones

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker was no stranger to starting.

When linebacker Deion Jones’ chronic shoulder starting acting up a week ago Friday, Walker begin getting ready to takeover for the Sunday game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones is set to return when the Falcons (5-6) host the Buccaneers (8-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

There were some hiccups early, but Walker settled down and went on to lead the Falcons in tackles in the 21-14 victory, which helped the team improve to 5-6.

“He did really well,” Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Mykal has always been that. I’ve always felt like we could put him in at any time.”

Jones was watching from the sidelines.

“Mykal did a good job,” Jones said. “I appreciate him for stepping up and playing such a good game. He flew around and made some plays.”

Jones had made 47 consecutive starts dating to Week 12 of the 2018 season. He’ll be back in the lineup against the Bucs.

“Feeling great,” Jones said. “It kind of hit at my ego because that’s something that I take pride in. Being healthy and being out there. But I’m definitely ready to get back at it. Be with my boys and fly around.”

Walker, who was taken in the fourth round (119th overall) of the 2020 NFL draft out of Fresno State, started six games as a rookie last season.

“He’s a guy that … you can ask him anything during the week, and he can answer the question,” Pees said. “He was ready to go all the time.”

The inside linebacker spot is one where the Falcons have some depth.

“He’s playing behind Deion,” Pees said. “Playing behind Foye (Oluokun) in there, and we are trying to find a little bit of role in some things which he deserves. He’s worked hard at it. He’s always been a good communicator. I had the utmost confidence in him playing last week because I knew he would know what to do.”

On the first defensive play of the game, Oluokun was waving Walker to go outside to cover a Jacksonville player. He didn’t get that call, but the Jaguars were incapable of making the Falcons pay.

Later, he missed a tackle on running back James Robinson that resulted in a 26-yard gain, and he was beaten in coverage on the Jags’ two-point conversion.

Despite the few missteps, the Falcons were pleased with his overall play.

“That’s why you have to continue to coach every player on the roster,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We continue to bring guys in here and try to develop so we can find the best team because you need everybody as the season goes on.”

Jones has returned to practice and appears set to return to the lineup against the Bucs. But Smith knows that if a player is not well on a Friday, that he probably is not going to make it to the game Sunday.

“That’s why I don’t have that fixed mind-set about, oh, we got this guy Week 1 (and) this how it’s going to be,” Smith said. “Well maybe he continues to improve, or he may have an injury.”

Walker was ready when the defensive staff approached him with the news.

“I don’t look at it as tough (situation),” Smith said. “I look at it as a guy being a professional which is really the minimum job requirement, but more times than not guys can’t handle it, but Mykal did a nice job.

“You want guys that want to play. I never got a problem with the guy wants the ball more, wants to play more, you want that. You got a problem with people that are content. You don’t want to be average. So, I give Mykal credit because he wants to play, and he received an opportunity. Mykal took advantage of this opportunity.”

Walker played in all 16 games as a rookie and finished with 45 tackles. He’s played in all 11 games this season and has 23 tackles.

He’s a student of the game, and that has impressed the Falcons’ coaches.

“There’s so many things that could change,” Smith said. “Motions, making sure you’re in the right gap in the run game. Making sure you get the right check in certain looks that we may have game planned that week. That’s part of doing your job and being a pro. He executed well.”

Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker talks with the media while arriving for player check in at training camp on report day at the team practice facility on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Flowery Branch.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Next four games

Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5

Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12

Falcons at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

Detroit Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26