FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons will move closer to their elusive goal of putting their first-string defensive line together when defensive end Ray Edwards makes his preseason debut on Saturday night at Pittsburgh.
"I'm ready to go," Edwards said after Thursday's practice.
Edwards said he's looking to "just go out there and play with my guys and build that camaraderie on the field."
The Falcons ranked 20th in the league with 31 sacks in 2010, including 13 by defensive end John Abraham. The Falcons tried to develop a complement to Abraham the last two years before making Edwards their only significant free-agent addition in the offseason.
Edwards, who had 16.5 sacks the last two years with Minnesota, signed a five-year, $30-million deal with Atlanta that includes a guarantee of $11 million.
Projected starting defensive tackle Corey Peters will miss the game with a knee injury. Edwards is expected to join tackle Jonathan Babineaux and Abraham against the Steelers. Peria Jerry may start at Peters' tackle spot.
Edwards, 26, had what coach Mike Smith said was a "minor knee procedure" during the lockout. The sixth-year veteran was held out of the Falcons' first two preseason games before seeing regular work with the first-team defense in practice this week.
He says he didn't have to be told he was ready for his first game action.
"I was practicing and taking a lot of reps," he said. "I was pretty sure they were going to put me in there and see what I can do."
Edwards said it is important for the starters to play together before the regular season.
"It takes time to build chemistry, but I think we're working on it," he said.
Smith said Thursday he plans to play his starters for at least one half, as is his norm for the third week of the preseason.
He said there will be no special limitations on Edwards' playing time.
"Ray is going to get some plays," Smith said. "We are going to make sure that we are smart in what we are doing. This will be his first exposure. If he's feeling comfortable and it's going well, we'll make a decision during the ballgame."
Smith said playing time for starters "could change based on what happens in the early part of the game."
Edwards (6-5, 268) had 37 tackles and 8 sacks for Minnesota last season after posting 8.5 sacks in his breakout 2009 season. He has had 5 or more sacks in four straight seasons, giving Atlanta its long-awaited complement to Abraham, who had 13 sacks last season.
Smith said he's looking to see pressure, not just sacks, against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"The thing that I'd really like to see is that we control the quarterback," Smith said. "That's a quarterback who can extend plays. He is a big, strong guy who you've got to get on the ground. When they throw the ball, that's what we've got to try to do."
When asked if he's looking forward to seeing Edwards in a game, Smith said he's "very anxious to see all of the guys."
"We are now getting within 15 days of the season opener," Smith said. "Everybody has a little bit of heightened excitement about going out and performing."
NOTES: Smith said CB Dunta Robinson (hamstring) and DE Lawrence Sidbury (ankle) will not play. Smith said he will make game-time decisions on CB Chris Owens (hamstring) and LB Akeem Dent (knee). ... The Falcons, who trimmed four players from their roster this week, face more cuts to reach 80 players next week. "This is an important game for a lot of guys," Smith said.