With season-ending injuries to cornerback Desmond Trufant and wide receiver Calvin Ridley, the Falcons will evaluate the depth at the two positions over the final three games of the season.
Trufant, who leads the team with four interceptions, suffered a broken forearm and Ridley suffered an abdominal injury in Sunday’s 40-20 win over the Panthers. The next men up behind Trufant and Ridley will continue the evaluation process Sunday when the Falcons (4-9) face the 49ers (11-2) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson went in for the injured Trufant at left cornerback against the Panthers while rookie Kendall Sheffield continued to play at nickel back. With Trufant out, rookie Jordan Miller will slide into the fourth cornerback spot.
Wreh-Wilson, who was a third-round pick by the Titans in 2013, is a steady veteran who has salvaged his career with the Falcons. He’s developed into a quality reserve and has the respect of the coaching staff.
He’s in his fourth season with the team and has played 171 defensive snaps and 82 special teams snaps.
“We’ll lean on him as we go through this,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
Sheffield, a fourth-round pick from Ohio State, has played well. He’s play 493 defensive snaps and 128 on special teams. Miller, a fifth-round pick from Washington, has played 11 defensive snaps and 77 on special teams.
Ridley took on more of pass-catching duties with the trade of Mohamed Sanu in October, and will finish the season with 63 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We have depth at receiver, but where Calvin really has been playing well, he’s been averaging two or three explosive plays a game,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “He had three against (against the Panthers).”
Also, the Falcons had already starting looking at wide receiver Russell Gage more in the slot. They started Christian Blake against the Saints. He had nine targets in each loss to the Bucs and Saints.
“When teams double Julio (Jones), Cal can usually beat his guy one-on-one and make some big plays,” Koetter said. “We know that we are definitely going to miss him. It will be up to everybody to absorb that, but he’s not going to be an easy guy to replace just because of his ability in one-on-ones.”
Against the Panthers, wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus caught a 93-yard touchdown pass on his first catch in the league. The speedy undrafted player from Virginia has been turning heads since the exhibition season and will get some more opportunities with Ridley out.
“He was one of those guys that to me always looked better in games,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Those are the kind of guys you want. He wasn't afraid to go in there, make catches, to be physical in the run game.”
The touchdown pass was the longest first-catch in NFL history and the longest touchdown pass that Ryan has thrown. It was the third longest touchdown pass in franchise history.
“He made the team right from the start,” Ryan said. “I think that shows the confidence that the staff had in him. He's a guy that's worked extremely hard and doesn't get that many opportunities because of the other guys that we have, but when he gets his number called, he's not scared. I admire that in him.”
Zaccheaus has played mostly special teams with 89 snaps, played 32 offensive snaps and has been active for just seven games.
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