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Dee Alford, David Onyemata set to return to practice

The Falcons will get back a couple of key defenders for Sunday’s tilt with the Saints.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

In his Monday press conference, naturally Arthur Smith had to confirm the reports that Desmond Ridder will be the team’s starter going forward. The Atlanta Falcons head coach also delivered some positive injury news.

The Falcons will be getting Dee Alford and David Onyemata back out there on the practice field, potentially bringing back a pair of key defensive starters ahead of their Week 12 game against the Saints. The news is less positive for Taylor Heinicke and Mack Hollins, who aren’t returning just yet, but at least it’s early in the week.

Onyemata’s return is a very, very big deal for Atlanta. We saw a decimated defensive line hold up alright against the run versus the Cardinals, but there were lapses there and virtually no pass rush push from that group, which hurt them badly against Arizona. Onyemata has been a standout all season for the Falcons and is a disruptive force on the interior, with team-leading numbers of pressures, sacks (he’s tied with Arnold Ebiketie), and quarterback knockdowns. He’ll be key to the effort against his old team.

Alford will, too. The glimpse we got of Clark Phillips against Arizona was tantalizing and early proof that he can be a terrific cornerback in this league, but Alford is allowing just 5.5 yards per target (best on the team among starting cornerbacks and 39th in the NFL) and is a very useful player against the run, as well. Getting him back out there with A.J. Terrell and Jeff Okudah gives this secondary a badly-needed boost against a New Orleans passing attack that is at least capable of big moments.

It would be nice to have Heinicke back in action in case something happens to Ridder and the team’s wide receiver depth is a lot more compelling with Hollins, so we’ll hope for good updates for the duo once we get to Wednesday and beyond. For the moment, though, knowing that Onyemata and Alford are back, especially with the Saints missing a couple of key players this week.