FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons middle linebacker Akeem Dent will return to the lineup for the team’s important third exhibition game against the Miami Dolphins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sun Life Stadium.
Dent suffered a concussion in the exhibition opener against the Ravens while playing on the punt coverage team. He was in the league’s concussion protocol program and did not play in the second game against the Bengals.
The second-year linebacker from Georgia and Douglass High missed some valuable time as he attempts to replace Curtis Lofton, the team’s leading tackler last season who left to join the New Orleans Saints during free agency.
Here are five things to look for when the starters play into the third quarter against the Dolphins.
1. Offensive line rotation: With backup left tackle Will Svitek lost for the season to an upper right arm injury, it has become imperative for the Falcons find out if rookie left tackle Lamar Holmes can help this season. He missed all of the offseason and parts of training camp while coming back from a broken toe.
He’s been working diligently with offensive line coach Pat Hill and will make his debut.
The Falcons’ coaching staff has made some unconventional moves under head coach Mike Smith by starting rookies like quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker and Lofton in 2008. The next season they started rookie defensive tackle Peria Jerry. In 2010, they started linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and wide receiver Julio Jones was in the starting lineup to open last season.
While it’s unlikely that Holmes can storm off the injury list and into the starting lineup, the Falcons plan to give him his shot in the “open competition” along the line.
2. Unleash the run game. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter doesn’t want to overwork his running backs in the exhibition season, but they would like to see some signs of life in the rushing attack.
They will try to unleash Michael Turner, who has just 14 yards on eight carries in the two exhibition games.
Overall, the Falcons have rushed 21 times for 71 yards against the Ravens and 18 times for 81 yards against the Bengals.
“This is the game that everybody wants to look their sharpest,” Turner said. “We are going into the third game and we have to make sure that we clean some things up before we go into Kansas City.”
3. Can Peria Jerry keep it going? One of the storylines of the exhibition season has been the solid play of former first-round pick Peria Jerry. He had three tackles and a tackle for a loss against the Ravens. Against Cincinnati, he had two tackles and one sack.
With Corey Peters out indefinitely, Jerry must continue to be productive. The Falcons should be fine while Peters recovers because behind Jerry, Vance Walker is playing well and rookie draft pick Travian Robertson has been a pleasant surprise.
4. Tighten up the pass defense. The secondary should dominate rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s weak receiving corps.
Miami wide receiver Roberto Wallace is called “ankle weights Wallace” by the coaches because they can’t figure out why the swift player can’t separate from defenders. Their rationale is that he must be running with some sort of invisible ankle weights.
Wide receiver Chris Hogan was dubbed “7-Eleven” by Miami running back Reggie Bush on HBO’s Hard Knocks because he’s open all the time in practice.
Falcons cornerbacks Brent Grimes ($10.281 million), Dunta Robinson ($6 million) and Asante Samuel ($2.875 million) have a combined cap number of $19.156 million and are being paid to improve the pass defense.
5. Linebackers will get tested against Reggie Bush. In addition to Dent in the middle on running downs, outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas will get tested in pass coverage by Bush, the former New Orleans Saint.
Weatherspoon must atone for a missed tackle in coverage against Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Nicholas appears fully recovered from his toe surgery and is running well.
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