ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons have added depth to their secondary by agreeing to contract terms with safety James Sanders.
A 43-game starter over the past four seasons with New England, Sanders wasn’t expected to be in uniform Thursday when the Falcons (0-3 preseason) hosted Baltimore (2-1) in an exhibition finale.
But Atlanta’s primary focus against the Ravens was avoiding injuries and hoping everyone is healthy for the Sept. 11 opener at Chicago.
Starting cornerback Dunta Robinson, who has been out since Aug. 14 with a hamstring injury, did not play. Neither did two other starters, center Todd McClure and defensive tackle Corey Peters, each of whom has been ruled out for the Bears game with knee injuries.
Sanders could challenge starting safeties Thomas DeCoud or William Moore for a starting job if the secondary doesn’t show some improvement.
In last week’s preseason loss at Pittsburgh, the Falcons gave up consecutive second-quarter touchdowns to Antonio Brown on 77- and 44-yard strikes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Regarding the inconsistent pass rush, Atlanta coach Mike Smith indicated that new starting end Ray Edwards may take more snaps than the other first-team defensive players. Edwards made his Falcons debut last week, but didn’t have much of an impact, after missing the first two preseason games and much of training camp with a knee injury.
“That is something we would like to do in terms of getting him up to speed,” Smith said. “I thought that there were some things that Ray did very well. It’s hard to judge the first game back. You can see his explosiveness. It was first-game rust that you see on all the guys and that’s why we’d like to get him some more snaps this week.”
Center Joe Hawley replaced McClure, who was injured against the Steelers and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this week. McClure has started 172 of 175 career games, including six in the playoffs, but Hawley, a fourth-round pick from Nevada-Las Vegas in 2010, is getting some assistance from the longtime veteran.
“I have a lot of work to do before Chicago,” Hawley said. “Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He has helped me out a lot. He answers all my questions.”
The Falcons signed Sanders after New England deemed his $2.8 million salary too expensive and released him to clear cap room.
A fourth-round pick for the Patriots in 2005, Sanders has eight interceptions in 84 regular-season games.
With Sanders’ arrival eliminating another spot for a newcomer, only a handful of jobs are left on the 53-man roster that will be announced early next week. The Ravens game was a last chance for some roster hopefuls to make an impression.
“Most certainly, you’ve got to weigh what they do in a game much more heavily than what they do in practice,” Smith said. “Often times out here in practice, there may be a coach in their ear from the sideline or another player. They’re going to be out there playing. We definitely weigh the games much more heavily than