On the hot seat: Falcons linebacker Duke Riley

He will attempt to replace Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones

(On the hot seat is not a fireable place. It’s just the player who needs to have a good game.) 

Duke Riley, a third-round pick (75th overall) in 2017, will take over for Pro Bowl player Deion Jones at middle linebacker when the Panthers (1-0) play the Falcons (0-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I don’t know how you replace the middle linebacker, that’s a tough one,” Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian said on SiriusXM NFL Radio recently. “He’s on a defense that’s based on speed and aggression. That’s tough. I feel badly for them.”

Riley was being groomed to back up Jones.

» More: Falcons' Riley, Kazee ready to step in

“I’ve been preparing for this backup (middle linebacker) role the whole offseason,” Riley said. “I actually played the whole (exhibition season) at middle linebacker. My job was to actually know all of the positions when I got here because they didn’t know what they were going to do with me.”

Riley started last season as the weakside linebacker, but lost his spot after missing too many tackles. He suffered a knee injury and then flourished on special teams upon his return.

He’s set to make his first start in the middle.

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“When I was backing up Deion, I always prepared like I was going to start,” Riley said.

Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel has a simple message for Riley.

“Just come in and dominate your gap,” Manuel said.

Riley will take over the signal-calling role on the defense, too.

“What is awesome is that I get to talk to Duke every play,” Manuel said. “A lot of people forget that. … I can talk to him every play and keep him balanced. With disciplined eyes, he’ll be fine.”

Riley, who started six games and played in 12 as a rookie, knows the Panthers will test him.

“I hope so,” Riley said. “I want them to come after me. Please. I’m ready for what ever.”

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