Falcons' Dan Quinn: Rookie Duke Riley looked 'comfortable' in debut

Although Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn didn't get to see first-round pick Takkarist McKinley in action Thursday night, he did get to dissect his third-round pick.

Linebacker Duke Riley played 27 defensive snaps and 11 special-teams plays in the Falcons' 23-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The former LSU star had a team-leading four tackles on defense and added another on special teams.

"I thought the first time for him, he looked really aware in the system," Quinn said of Riley. "Some of the time, you're looking for those first-year player mistakes, and he didn't have a lot of those, [except for] some leverage issues. So, he looked really comfortable in the system. I felt his speed, and he did play a lot on special teams. That's going to be part of the role for him -- using that speed and that ability to run and hit.

"He did a good job on the communication system, going to the players and relaying that. That was a first for him, as well."

Riley is getting a chance to compete for significant playing time at weakside linebacker, with De'Vondre Campbell transitioning some to strongside linebacker and Deion Jones holding down the middle linebacker spot. The Falcons started Thursday night's game in the nickel defense, with Jones and Campbell as the two linebackers on the field. Riley took the field for the second defensive series, along with Jones and Campbell, in the base defense.

Quinn also praised another rookie defender in fifth-round draft pick Damontae Kazee, the former college cornerback who was converted to free safety for depth behind Ricardo Allen. Kazee played 17 snaps on defense and 15 on special teams.

"Kazee is somebody that jumped out to us both on [special] teams and on defense," Quinn said. "He's a very physical player, and you felt that the way he can track and come out of the middle of the field. I thought he and [linebacker Jermaine] Grace timed up a punt and really covered that well. We talked about that in front of the team today."

Offensive guard Sean Harlow, a fourth-round pick, played 52 snaps, the second-most on the team behind center Cornelius Edison. Harlow picked up a 15-yard face mask penalty that will likely result in his first NFL fine.

"Harlow got a ton of reps," Quinn said. "It was very intentional for him to get a lot of reps."

Running back Brian Hill, another fifth-round pick, played 24 snaps on offense and 11 on special teams. He had nine rushes for just 10 yards and was credited with one special-teams tackle, although he appeared to miss two tackles on one play.

"As far as Hill goes, we were really happy with him on teams and the way that he strained," Quinn said. "The run game never got on track like we had hoped. But in terms of protection, [Hill] was on point for that. And on teams, I thought it was a good first start.''

Tight end Eric Saubert, the last of three fifth-round picks, played 36 snaps on offense and 19 on special teams. Saubert dropped a pass and was whistled for two holding penalties, including one that nullified a 48-yard touchdown connection between Matt Simms and undrafted rookie receiver Reggie Davis.

"Saubert showed good strain,'' Quinn said. "We were disappointed he had a drop and a foul. The foul was an aggressive penalty, one he was going to try and get a block for Reggie to go. And it's a good teaching moment for him where he had a hold of the guy and, 'OK, when do I know when to release where the foul doesn't get called?' Some of those mistakes you learn from, and you've got to be in a situation to do that. I was glad he was able to."

Quinn singled out undrafted players Davis and Grace. Cornerback Janor Jones also had a spectacular interception.