Matt Gono has been living in his own little Groundhog Day for years now. Every spring and summer, the coaching staff talks up his ability and promise and talks about what would happen if he got a larger role. Every time he gets any real playing time, he holds his own. Every time that happens, he goes back to the bench again and does not emerge until injury forces him into the lineup.
With just three games left to go in 2020, that’s likely to play out again. Kaleb McGary missed last Sunday’s game with an undisclosed non-injury absence and Gono stepped in, played the entire game, and successfully fended off Joey Bosa, grading out per Pro Football Focus as Atlanta’s second best offensive lineman of the day behind Jake Matthews. Earlier this year, Gono had a solid fill-in effort in Week 3 for McGary, who had an MCL sprain at the time. It’s unclear when James Carpenter is coming back and Justin McCray hasn’t exactly been spectacular in relief, but there’s no indication that if McGary does come back, the Falcons will slide Gono over to left guard despite his cross-training over the past couple of years.
This has to be frustrating for Gono, but he’s headed for an expanded role in 2021, whether it’s with Atlanta or someone else. Wes Schweitzer was a far more xperienced candidate but was similarly grudgingly pressed into starting duty over and over again due to injuries, and he parlayed that into a starting job in Washington, where he’s succeeding. Past promising but buried linemen like Daniel Brunskill and Ben Garland have found gigs in San Francisco, too, and Gono has played well enough in his limited chances to land a decent-sized contract somewhere with the chance to compete for a starting job. He’ll only be 25 years old heading into the next offseason.
The question is whether he’ll get any more chances to start this year, and whether the Falcons will try to bring him back under a new regime as either competition for a soon-to-be-open left guard job or the swing tackle role. It’s difficult to know what the nextz front office and coaching staff will think of Gono, but it’d be a shame if the Falcons once again allowed a talented young offensive lineman to leave when quality depth seems like a struggle every single year.