The Falcons and Dolphins rested their starters on Friday night, but it was still an intriguing contest, particularly for the Dirty Birds.
Atlanta was led by Logan Woodside, who commanded the offense and avoided any consequential turnovers, as well as a pair of running backs vying for a roster spot in Carlos Washington and Godwin Igwebuike. The veteran Igwebuike finished the evening with 70 of the offense’s 102 rushing yards, including a touchdown.
The defense and special teams were magnificent too. Dee Alford made a statement in the battle for punt returner, taking one 79 yards for a score. Though it’s just the preseason and most concepts are vanilla, the early returns on Ryan Nielsen are positive. There was a lot of good and very little bad, but the thing I noticed most was Atlanta’s rookies shining.
Bijan Robinson, Matthew Bergeron, and Clark Phillips didn’t play, but Zach Harrison and DeMarcco Hellams looked phenomenal in limited action.
The Ohio State product might be the surprise of the offseason. He’s consistently impressed while rushing the passer and defending the run in training camp, which continued into Friday’s contest in Miami.
Coming out of the draft, Harrison was labeled a project. After all, he hadn’t really lived up to the billing as a highly-rated high school recruit. He struggled to establish himself with the Buckeyes, which is a program known for developing the position.
I didn’t expect Harrison to contribute much at all this season, but that will change if he continues this level of play. New Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen has been heralded for his ability to get the most out of his long defensive ends; Harrison could be the next diamond in the rough.
Hellams has regularly been recognized by the coaching staff throughout training camp. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith described him as just a flat-out good football player, and we saw it against the Dolphins. The rookie out of Alabama grabbed a tipped ball out of the air, intercepting Mike White in the end zone. Moreover, he had several crushing tackles.
Considering his only competition for a roster spot is Micah Abernathy, I’d consider the prospect of the seventh-round pick making the roster to be a good one.
There were others as well. I mentioned Carlos Washington earlier. The undrafted free agent showed an ability to be a versatile weapon out of the backfield, contributing in the run and pass game.
Another undrafted free agent, Xavier Malone, enjoyed a nice performance, leading the team in receiving with 50 yards on just two grabs, hanging onto one after a brutal collision. In a crowded wideout room, Malone separated himself.
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire