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Former Georgia star linebacker Dent among those kept by Falcons after cuts; backup QB Davis turning heads in Atlanta

Former Georgia star linebacker Akeem Dent was among those cut by the Atlanta Falcons.

Former Georgia star linebacker Akeem Dent was among those cut by the Atlanta Falcons.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Three players who started for the Atlanta Falcons last season were among those cut late Friday.

Cornerback Dominique Franks, linebacker Spencer Adkins and fullback Mike Cox were let go as the team got down to the mandated 53-man roster for the start of the regular season.

The Falcons also released long snapper Joe Zelenka, who held that role for the past three seasons. He was beaten out by rookie Josh Harris.

Franks was a fifth-round pick in 2010 and made four starts last season. Christopher Owens and Robert McClain claimed the backup roles behind Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel.

Adkins started the playoff loss against the New York Giants in place of injured Stephen Nicholas, but the Falcons are going with only five linebackers. Mike Peterson and Robert James are the backups behind starters Sean Weatherspoon, former Georgia star Akeem Dent and Nicholas. Dent had missed much of the preseason with a concussion but Georgia liked his talent enough to keep him around.

Cox was signed last year after Ovie Mughelli went down with a season-ending injury and started five games. But Lousaka Polite, who spent the past six seasons with Dallas and Miami, was brought in during the preseason and won the spot.

Among the other moves, receiver Kerry Meier was waived-injured, while safety Shann Schillinger went on injured reserve. In addition, the Falcons waived linebacker Rico Council, receiver Drew Davis, tackle Bryce Harris, linebacker Jerrell Harris, center Tyler Horn, receiver Marcus Jackson, cornerback Marty Markett, running back Dimitri Nance, defensive tackle Conrad Obi, defensive tackle Micanor Regis, receiver James Rodgers, linebacker Pat Schiller, cornerback Peyton Thompson and safety Suaesi Tuimaunei.

The team reached injury settlements with tight end Lamark Brown and guard Andrew Jackson.

FALCONS LIKE DAVIS: Once again, Dominique Davis is the new quarterback in camp, marveling at the work of established starter Matt Ryan.

And Ryan is still impressed with the play of Davis.

Davis began his college career at Boston College, where he was redshirted in Ryan’s 2007 senior season.

Now Ryan and Davis, an undrafted rookie free agent from East Carolina, are together again with the Atlanta Falcons (No. 13 in the AP Pro32).

“Right back with him,” Davis said recently. “It’s deja vu, pretty much. I’ll just do the same thing I was doing as a freshman at B.C., just learn from him.”

The Falcons opened training camp with Davis the fourth-string quarterback behind Ryan, Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson. Redman was cut last week, moving Davis up in the rotation.

Davis looked like a candidate for the practice squad. Instead, he’s pushing for a roster spot as he could compete to be Ryan’s top backup.

Davis has surprised some with his strong arm and accuracy in the Falcons’ first two preseason games, prompting speculation he could push the 35-year-old Redman for the top backup job.

Ryan knew what to expect.

“I’ve been impressed with him but not surprised,” Ryan said. “He came in my fifth year at Boston College, and he was a talented kid who worked hard. I was excited when I found out they were going to bring him in here, because I knew he was a good person.”

Coach Mike Smith had a strong compliment for Davis.

“Dominique has improved immensely from our rookie minicamp,” Smith said. “He’s probably shown the most improvement of any member of our football team. He’s getting a better understanding when he’s had his opportunities to perform. He’s done a nice job.”

Davis (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) has good size and also showed good mobility as he moved out of the pocket and avoided tacklers before finding receivers in the Falcons’ 24-19 preseason loss to the Bengals.

Davis, playing late in the game, completed his first eight passes and finished 11 of 18 for 121 yards with a touchdown.

The rookie said he’s again taking notes from watching Ryan, just as he did at Boston College.

“I always try to look in the future and envision myself being a great player, but just by watching him and the things he was doing, it was amazing,” Davis said. “I was just trying to repeat the things he was doing.”

Davis had another role model closer to home. He said he learned from older brother Desmond Clark what to expect in the NFL. Clark played 12 seasons as a tight end in the NFL, including eight with the Chicago Bears.

“Oh, it helped a lot,” Davis said. “I’ve never been with him in training camp. But during the season, I’ve been with him in the locker room. I’ve been in practices. I’ve been in meetings. I’ve been in all that type stuff. So I kind of knew the feel for everything already.”

The Falcons appear committed to adding more emphasis to their passing game with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Davis has experience in a passing attack. He passed for 7,192 yards and 62 touchdowns the past two years at East Carolina.

The gaudy passing numbers were not enough to get Davis drafted. He said he’s still trying to prove he belongs in the NFL.

“The main thing was I was trying to make the team, just trying to get on somebody’s roster somewhere,” Davis said.