Cincinnati Bengals vs. Atlanta Falcons: Rookies get chance to impress

Teams open exhibition season Thursday

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -  Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will be looking for rookies and free agents to step up and try to win a roster spot in the team’s opening exhibition game against the Falcons Thursday night (8 p.m., ESPN).

"We know who our quarterback is going to be, we know who most of our skill guys are," Lewis said after Wednesday's light practice.

"We know basically who the starting group is going to be, so you're battling for guys to fit into new spots, special-teams wise. You allow some attrition, some graduation every year, so we can plug in some younger guys. We're looking for those guys to step up and play."

A potential matchup of the two top receivers in the 2011 draft, Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Atlanta's Julio Jones, won’t happen. Green remained in Cincinnati this week to receive treatment for his bruised knee. Jones will be held out with a tight hamstring.
Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) won’t play and neither will Falcons outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (dislocated left finger).

Most starters, including Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Falcons QB Matt Ryan, are expected to see limited playing time.

The Bengals shared the practice fields with the Falcons on Monday and Tuesday. The teams dodged the rain by holding separate workouts in the Falcons' indoor facility on Wednesday.

Lewis said the combined practices were a success.

"It's been great," Lewis said. "The Falcons' hospitality and organization, it's been outstanding. It's been real positive work and productive work for us."

The Falcons will be watching the matchup between Atlanta right tackle Lamar Holmes and Cincinnati defensive end Robert Geathers.

Holmes will start after Mike Johnson dislocated his left ankle and broke his left leg in Tuesday's practice. Johnson will have surgery next week.

Johnson played in every game, including one start, in 2012. He entered training camp as the favorite to replace Tyson Clabo, who signed with Miami after being released by Atlanta.

The injury leaves Atlanta with almost no experience at the position.

Holmes played in only one game as a rookie last season after missing training camp with a foot injury. Geathers, entering his 10th season, will be a tough test for such an inexperienced player.

The matchup will help the Falcons determine if they need to look for a veteran tackle. Falcons coach Mike Smith said he's confident Holmes (6-6, 333), a third-round pick from Southern Miss in 2012, can handle the job.

"He's a big, athletic tackle," Smith said. "That's what you want. There are very athletic pass rushers we're going to face all season long. That's probably his strength. He's very athletic."

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