By now, you may have heard that Elijah Wilkinson is out for tomorrow’s game against the Chargers. That leaves the Falcons without their starting left guard, a player who has been a key piece of a resurgent run game, and unfortunately it’s the second game this season Wilkinson has missed. After Colby Gossett pulled starting duties against Seattle with Wilkinson out, my assumption was that we would see him again in Week 9, especially because Gossett seemed to hold up well in that effort.
That could still happen, but this week’s practices suggest a different possibility. As Tori McElhaney wrote at AtlantaFalcons.com, the Falcons had Matt Hennessy starting at left guard this week in practice, a seeming indication that they’ll roll him out there against the Chargers. That qualifies as a surprise.
As McElhaney writes, Hennessy lost a down-to-the-wire competition at center with Drew Dalman, who has held the job all year. Dalman’s had his pass protection and snapping woes, though the latter issue has been improving as time goes on, but the coaching staff has seemed happy with his season thus far and there has been zero talk of Hennessy taking over. That led the staff to try giving Hennessy other chances to make his mark, apparently.
According to Hennessy, though, this has been in the works for a while.
“It’s something that we’ve been doing since Drew was named the starter in Week 1,” Hennessy said on Friday. “I’ve been working on position flexibility, playing both guard spots as well. I’ve chipped away and felt like I’ve made progress playing guard throughout the last six or seven weeks.”
Hennessy did play some left guard in his rookie season—which made sense, given that Alex Mack was the starter at center—and struggled quite a bit in that role. This is a full two years later, however, and Hennessy is a much more experienced player, having turned in a nearly full season as the starter at center in 2021 and getting a year to work with offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford. It’s worth remembering that the competition between him and Dalman was not settled until nearly the last second, as well. This is also the team that had Wilkinson switch to a position he had never played before in the NFL and have seen him mostly thrive in it, so if they think Hennessy can do the job capably this Sunday, it’s probably worth just seeing how it plays out.
If Hennessy does go out there and hold his own, it’ll be good news for the Falcons, who will have a capable backup at both center and guard in times of need. Considering they also have reserve options at left tackle (Chuma Edoga), right tackle (Germain Ifedi), and a proven fill-in option in Gossett, that would be another sign that this team has the depth to weather the storm should injuries become a factor down the stretch. They also still have Jalen Mayfield on injured reserve—though there’s no indication of if or when he’ll return—and further options on the practice squad.
At the moment, though, it’s not 100% clear whether we’ll see Hennessy, and far from 100% clear that he’ll excel if he takes over. It would be great for Hennessy and the team alike if he can prove to be a capable guard tomorrow, though, so we’ll hope for that outcome.