The Falcons feared that Casey Hayward would be lost for a while after he suffered an injury in Sunday’s game against the 49ers, and unfortunately for all of us, they were right.
Today, the team announced that Hayward is heading to injured reserve, meaning he’ll be out four weeks at minimum. MyCole Pruitt takes his spot on the roster, as reported earlier, and Atlanta’s bringing back linebacker Dorian Etheridge and defensive lineman Jalen Dalton, as both take practice squad spots today. Kobe Smith is on his way out to make room.
That’s a lot of moves, but Hayward is obviously the biggest one, as well as a major blow to this defense. Darren Hall has proven himself to be a capable fill-in multiple times this year and will step right into a starting role opposite A.J. Terrell, but aside from a couple of lapses in coverage, Hayward had a quality starter through the first six weeks of the season and will be missed. That’s particularly true given the matchup Sunday, when the Falcons have to travel to Cincinnati to face an increasingly confident and competent Bengals passing attack. We’ll certainly hope Hayward can return in a month, as the Falcons will need him if they’re in the thick of the NFC playoff race late in the year.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons ultimately elevate anyone off the practice squad to give themselves more depth. Terrell and Isaiah Oliver are also coming off of what seem to be minor injuries, leaving the team’s depth situation a little shakier with only Dee Alford and Mike Ford currently waiting in the wings.
The Pruitt move was one Kevin Knight wrote about yesterday, but it does give Atlanta a capable blocking tight end solid pass catcher. It’s sort of unbelievable that the team is carrying five tight ends right now, but presumably they’ll find roles for all of them or try to sneak Anthony Firkser back onto the practice squad.
The return of Etheridge and Dalton, meanwhile, is good news. Etheridge was a solid reserve in 2021 and a very capable special teamer, and if injuries strike at inside linebacker any further than they already have, he’ll be excellent insurance. Dalton looked like one of the team’s better defensive linemen during the summer before he got hurt, so if he’s healthy again, he may find himself flexed to the roster and chipping in given the team’s merely adequate depth situation right now.
We’ll see if further moves are coming, but we hope Hayward is healthy as soon as possible.