Falcons reshuffling offensive line due to injuries

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The Falcons are preparing for the Chargers this Sunday as the team sits atop the NFC South with a 4-4 record, looking to get over .500 for the first time since the 2017 season. Atlanta could welcome back as many as three starters that missed last week’s contest against the Panthers. Cordarrelle Patterson and Jaylinn Hawkins returned to practice Wednesday. The latter should play after suffering a concussion against the Bengals a couple of weeks ago, but the former has to be activated off the Injured Reserve before being eligible to play, and the 21-day window for that to happen began Nov. 2.

AJ Terrell is the other starter that could return, but it’s looking far less optimistic than the other two. Hawkins is the most likely to suit up, Patterson could, but Terrell probably won’t. Soft tissue injuries, particularly hamstrings, are complicated to gauge until you’re going full speed in live play. It might feel fine to sprint, but the unpredictable nature of playing the position — spontaneously accelerating and decelerating — presents a challenge in recovery. The Falcons will likely give him at least one more week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they push it to the team’s bye week.

More bad news — Atlanta could be missing a starter along the offensive line. Elijah Wilkinson missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday, the team’s site reports. Wilkinson has been a revelation at left guard for Arthur Smith’s offense. Last season, with Jalen Mayfield in the lineup, the Falcons’ offensive line couldn’t pass protect or get any push in the run game. Now, they still can’t pass protect but have been one of the best run blocking units in football. And when you can consistently move the ball on the ground, pass sets become easier via play action. Wilkinson is an average player at best, but Mayfield may have been the very worst lineman in football a year ago; that’s an exponential improvement.

This isn’t the first game Wilkinson has missed, though. Against the Seahawks in Week 3, the veteran missed the game due to a personal matter. Atlanta rolled with Colby Gossett, who performed admirably, and ended up winning a close one. Cordarrelle Patterson actually ran for a career-high against Seattle, posting 141 yards on 17 carries and a score. However, the team hasn’t turned to Gossett this time; it’s been another familiar face — Matt Hennessy. The former third-round pick has taken reps at left guard for the second straight practice with Wilkinson out.

I didn’t think Gossett’s performance was bad enough to warrant a change, but maybe there’s an injury, or the staff just sees Hennessy as the better option. Despite starting the entire season at center last season, Hennessy does have experience at guard. Honestly, he can’t be as bad as Mayfield, so we’ll see how this one plays out.

Photographer: Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

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