There is time for the Falcons who are currently injured to be ready to play in Week 1 against the Panthers, but that time grows short. There was good news on that front on Monday, but there was also a sense that three players in particular are going to be down-to-the-wire calls.
The good news? Cornerback Mike Hughes is back practicing, and if available he’d certainly bolster the team’s depth at that crucial position. We didn’t see much of Hughes owing to his injury issues this summer, but when healthy he’ll provide depth at multiple positions and will be an emergency option as a returner. For Week 1, where he’s just coming back, it will be A.J. Terrell, Tre Flowers, and Dee Alford starting, with Clark Phillips likely pinch-hitting as needed.
The less great news? The Falcons might be without Jeff Okudah, KhaDarel Hodge, and Cordarrelle Patterson for the game if things don’t change in the days ahead. Arthur Smith sounded a hopeful note Monday on that front, as he is wont to do, but we’ll have to see what happens Wednesday, Thursday, and especially Friday before we can be more than cautiously optimistic there.
Missing from Falcons practice: cornerback Jeff Okudah, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge and running back Cordarrelle Patterson.— Terrin Waack (@TerrinWaack) September 4, 2023
We’ll get further into this if any of this trio misses Sunday’s game, but none of their absences would be trivial. Hodge and Patterson are likelier to have more major roles on special teams to start the season, with Patterson fielding kicks and mixing in as an occasional threat out of the backfield and out wide. Godwin Igwebuike will almost certainly be a Week 1 practice squad activation if Patterson is not good to go, while Josh Ali will step into a more significant role if Hodge is out.
Okudah is the player I least expect to return Week 1, as his injury was one that seemed most significant when it happened, and the team promised a fairly non-specific early season return. Given that he was expected to start opposite Terrell, the Falcons will likely miss him, with Flowers set to be Bryce Young’s favorite target until he (hopefully) proves that’s a mistake.
We’ll see who is out there practicing Wednesday, with Smith’s status updates and the presence or non-presence of Patterson, Hodge, and Okudah giving us a good sense of whether they’ll be fit to go Sunday. It goes without saying that for a crucial first game against a division rival, having this team as healthy as possible is our fondest wish.