Bijan Robinson looks the part in debut, plus more Falcons preseason observations

ATLANTA — Bijan Robinson said he was nervous on his first play as a professional. He didn’t look it.

The Atlanta Falcons rookie running back took his first NFL carry 12 yards and went on to set the pace in a 15-play opening drive Friday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the Falcons’ 13-13 preseason tie with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I thought he handled it really well,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “He operated fast. It certainly didn’t look too big for him.”

Robinson and the rest of the Falcons starters were making their season debut after sitting out last week’s preseason opener in Miami. The University of Texas product, whom the Falcons took with the No. 8 pick, played one series and had four carries for 20 yards and one reception for 6 yards. He got one-third of the touches during the series Atlanta’s offensive starters were on the field.

“It felt awesome,” Robinson said. “It was definitely a blessing to be out there and to show little snippets of the gift God has given me. I know it’s the preseason, but I was ready to go.”

The Falcons have one more preseason game Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Smith said he wasn’t sure if his starters would see any action in that game.

“I think we’ll be fine whatever we do,” Robinson said. “We looked very explosive (on the first drive). I know it didn’t end how we wanted to and had a couple penalties, but I thought we looked really explosive when we were out there.”

Wide receiver Drake London had three catches for 33 yards, and tight end Kyle Pitts had one catch for 9 yards on the drive. It was Pitts’ first action since tearing his MCL in the 10th game last season. None of the starters returned after the first drive.

“Felt good being back out there with the guys, competing,” Pitts said. “We knocked the rust off. I’m good. I’m all locked in.”

Pitts said he was not surprised by Robinson’s debut.

“He’s a baller,” the tight end said. “He went out there and did what he’s supposed to do.”


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The penalties were a problem

The Falcons were flagged fewer times than any team in the NFL last season — 68 times. That comes out to four per game. They were called for 13 penalties Friday night, and they can’t blame it on the backups. The offense was flagged four times on the first drive. Pro Bowl left guard Chris Lindstrom was called for holding twice, which matched his total from last season.

“The things I wasn’t happy about were the presnap things,” Smith said. “That’s not who we want to be. We were effective, but we have to come away with more points when you have that many yards (391). We will get it fixed.”

London, offensive tackles Kaleb McGary, Tyler Vrabel and Jalen Mayfield, tight end Tucker Fisk, linebacker Frank Ginda and guard Justin Shaffer were all flagged for false starts.

Ridder looked just fine

Desmond Ridder, Atlanta’s second-year quarterback, took 15 snaps, all of them coming on the opening drive. He finished 7-for-9 for 80 yards and an interception that ended the opening drive in the red zone. The interception came on a tipped pass intended for wide receiver Scotty Miller. After struggling with accuracy at times in training camp, Ridder threw a couple of screen passes behind Robinson and Pitts but also made a beautiful back-shoulder throw to London on third down.

“I thought Des spread the ball around,” Smith said. “We have a lot of stuff we can coach off of, but it was good to get (the starters) out there.

Mayfield keeps getting chances

The 2021 third-round pick was the second-team left tackle Friday night, an indication the Falcons are still giving him strong consideration for the swing tackle spot on the 53-man roster. The swing tackle is traditionally active on game days in order to sub in for the starter at left or right tackle if either has to be replaced.

Mayfield, who played four series, could have had a better audition. He struggled against Cincinnati defensive end Raymond Johnson III, an undrafted free agent from the 2021 draft class.

Mayfield was forced into the starting job at left guard his rookie year, struggled then spent the 2022 season on injured reserve because of a back injury. The Falcons moved him back to his more natural position of tackle this season, and he played mostly right tackle through the first three weeks of training camp.



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The Falcons might keep only five wide receivers

Atlanta kept six wide receivers on its initial 53-man roster in 2022, but the numbers might break differently this year. London, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge and Miller are the top four targets in the passing game, but finding two more for the regular rotation might not be easy.

Josh Ali entered the game during the first series, a good sign for his chances, and finished with three catches for 39 yards. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick by the Eagles in 2019, had two catches for 39 yards.

Hodge left the game with an ankle injury after making a 12-yard catch in the first quarter, but Smith was hopeful the injury wasn’t serious.

“Seemed in good spirits behind me (on the sideline),” Smith said.

(Photo: Dale Zanine /  USA Today)

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