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Duke Riley deserves a chance to grow this preseason

Patience might just be the best virtue possible for Riley.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images

After having a tough night up in the Medowlands, Falcons LB Duke Riley didn’t exactly have a hero’s welcome waiting for him from Falcons fans.

He got ample playing time to show that he’s not made immediate progressions in his role at the weakside linebacker spot, looking lost at times while second-and-third stringers made plays around him. Now, some of the fervor was a bit uncalled for. Riley made plays at times, and was around the ball all night. But he also made some very, very obvious mistakes.

Missing RB Isaiah Crowell on a Teddy Bridgewater slant stands as the most notable mistake. Riley reacted far-too slowly to the pass, and effectively got pantsed by a running back not really known for being a dual-threat for a touchdown. When you’re expected to start, that’s understandably a lowlight.

This isn’t a post to excuse Riley’s performance. It is worth remembering that reports had surfaced out of Flowery Branch that he was having a strong offseason, and when LB Mychal Kendricks went up to Cleveland to join their crowded linebacking core, some folks wondered if Atlanta’s complete and total lack of public interest might signal that Riley was ready for more.

But preseason is still preseason.

Schweitzer and Riley

I’ll never forget the optimism some of us had when Wes Schweitzer looked like he was really putting it together against Miami last preseason. In the opener, he actually had one play (you can go back and look) where fends off Ndamukong Suh for a stretch for the Falcons to get the play off. Yes, there was an instance where Wes Schweitzer fended off Ndamukong Suh. It was in the preseason.

Most folks felt pretty good about Schweitzer going into week one, but, er, y’know, there’s not reason to sugar coat it, he struggled something awful that game. He rebounded a bit after and had a so-so season, but the optimism from preseason was not warranted. He ended up starting every game for Atlanta a year ago, but didn’t look like the solution the team needed at the position That’s why it’s hard to take anything you see out in the preseason seriously; things are just different, from context to effort level to matchups.

So, for Riley, this works in his favor. Sure, he didn’t look like he was playing with a lot of confidence, and his reaction times were not great. He didn’t have a good night. But, the book is not written on what he’ll do for the organization, and an entire offseason of promise doesn’t get to just disappear overnight in a scrimmage.

The work and improvements Riley has made might need to take time to catch up with him as the preseason carries on. He might begin to react faster to plays, show more prowess in tackling and look, in general, more comfortable out there. Then again, he may not.

An unfinished story

As thoughtful Falcons Twitter member Dominique Patterson noted to me on Twitter, Riley also didn’t have the benefit of playing with Deion Jones and the rest of the in-tune defense, which probably affected his chemistry and the communication. Riley is not going to be able to do it all by himself out there, particularly in his sophomore year.

I won’t claim to know the ultimate truth on where Riley will end up, and realize very much that he’s got to look better than he did Friday night to hold down his starting job.

But Riley’s story hasn’t been written yet, and he’s still got ample time before September ball to make the strides necessary to keep his starting role. He might just do that, given that the team made it clear he’s going to get plenty of playing time the rest of the way.

So, y’know, give the man a chance to prove he belongs. It’s a far better thing if he gets there than if he doesn’t, given that the team will then be scrambling for a solution at linebacker.