Falcons: How do reports of Matt Hennessy’s front running for center affect Drew Dalman?

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The Falcons offensive line has undergone many transformations over the past few seasons, and if the first-year regime is to have any success, the unit needs to improve. Winning in the trenches has always been a key to sustainability in successful franchises; Arthur Smith knows that too, “Obviously, we’re going to go as the line goes.” Atlanta will have multiple new faces along the offensive front this year, and Tori McElhaney of The Athletic seems to believe Matt Hennessy is the front runner for the starting center position.

Matt Hennessy is expected to take over at center in the wake of Alex Mack’s departure in free agency. Many say Hennessy is coming along nicely at the spot. Smith said Hennessy has done everything asked of him, and Jake Matthews noted his communication skills are much better than they were in his rookie year.

The battle for the starting center job was always going to come down to Hennessy and rookie Drew Dalman. Still, I want to preface this corroborated report from McElhaney by saying minicamp and OTAs are a notoriously unreliable way to predict regular-season starting lineups. But this is all we have to go on, so we should take it seriously.

Hennessy was highly coveted coming out of Temple. The Falcons drafted him with the 78th overall pick in the 2020 draft, but if they hadn’t, he would’ve been taken by the Broncos a pick later. The New York Daily News reported that the Jets, who owned the 79th pick, had agreed to trade the pick to the Broncos. Part of the reason Hennessy was beloved by teams was his off-the-charts athleticism, apparent in his elite RAS.

Even though he didn’t play well in limited snaps his rookie year, he was never going to take over for Alex Mack until the veteran center parted ways in free agency; instead, he was asked to fill in for James Carpenter at left guard. He struggled there, but the sample size was also minuscule. Late in the same season, Mack suffered a concussion, which thrusted Hennessy into the starting lineup. However, even at center, he didn’t show much improvement from his poor play at guard.

There is a bright side, though; Hennessy fits the Arthur Smith zone rushing scheme perfectly. Given his football IQ, athleticism in space, and confidence growth, Hennessy could be the center of the future in Atlanta.

Communication is paramount among successful centers, as their responsibilities range from coordinating calls along the offensive line to in-game adjustments with the quarterback. Hennessey has shown obvious growth from his rookie season, and with a new slate under a first-year regime, he seems primed to start over fourth-round pick Drew Dalman. Falcons offensive coach Dwayne Ledford mentioned a few positives regarding his second-year center, which should spark even more optimism in Atlanta.
Iron sharpens iron, so the competition between Hennessy and Dalman will only field positive results. Terry Fontenot added Dalman because he was likely the best player or offensive lineman on his board, and the Falcons had no backup at the position. Dalman’s development is certainly slowed if he’s not taking first-team reps, but does that necessarily affect his place on the team? I don’t think so because if Hennessy struggles in 2021, I believe Dalman will eventually earn a chance to prove himself.
It’s not great that the first-year general manager selected a center in the fourth round of his first draft when there was a starting-caliber player at the same position on the roster. But I will say that these offseason reports of position battles should be taken with a grain of salt because much can change from now until the season opener. At the very least, Dalman can compete at guard and develop slowly behind Hennessy at center.

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