Falcons have contingency plan in place with injuries at WR, OL

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Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris addresses the injuries affecting the offensive unit and the players who could potentially help.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons’ offense is suddenly a banged-up bunch.

In particular, the receiver position saw a couple of injuries take place during Sunday’s 43-6 win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

During the game, receiver Olamide Zaccheaus suffered a toe injury in the first quarter and did not return. Calvin Ridley appeared to hurt either his foot or ankle — he has been nursing an injured foot — in the third quarter, with the third-year receiver needing to be looked at by the training staff. Ridley was able to return and an injury designation was never announced.

Those two receivers will be closely monitored through the upcoming week of practice, as will Julio Jones, who was unable to play Sunday due to a hamstring aggravation suffered two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints.

If the Falcons are down two of these three receivers in Sunday’s rematch against the Saints, they could be forced to flex a receiver from the practice squad.

“The receivers we have on our roster, as far as practice squad, we feel really good about,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “They are capable in a game to step up in the same type of mentality as well. We talk about this a lot but we really found a unique skill set we like about our wideouts and it’s something we really love to get those guys going. … I’m really excited to see who the next man up, the next man mentality might be.”

The Falcons have three receivers on the practice squad at the moment in Devin Gray, Chris Rowland and Juwan Green. Gray spent time over the past two seasons with the Falcons’ practice squad and was re-signed to the unit last Monday.

Rowland and Green both signed to the practice squad before the 2020 season kicked off. At the FCS level, both Rowland and Green posted some gaudy numbers as seniors. At Tennessee State, Rowland caught 104 passes for 1,437 yards and 11 touchdowns. At Albany, Green posted 83 receptions for 1,386 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Laquon Treadwell has been on the practice squad for most of the year but has been on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the past two weeks. Treadwell was a former 2016 first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings who has caught 65 passes for 701 yards and two touchdowns during his career. If Treadwell returns this week from the reserve/COVID-19 list, he could be a game-day flex option if needed.

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Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter comments on the state of the offensive line without James Carpenter, who left game against Raiders with an injury.

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In addition to worrying about their health at receiver, the Falcons are tasked with figuring out who will start at left guard. James Carpenter went down with a groin injury against the Raiders and was carted off the field. While he didn’t rule Carpenter out for Sunday’s game, Morris didn’t downplay the injury either.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter praised how Carpenter has played while noting it would be tough to be without him on Sunday.

“He does bring the old school toughness,” Koetter said. “(Carpenter) went out of his way to lose weight and body fat. He really came in with his body in a good place. He hasn’t had the little nagging injuries. This time it might be a little bit more serious, we’ll have to see what the doctors say. With 10 years of NFL experience, he’s played a lot of football in this league. He’s seen it all. He definitely brings a certain toughness. He’s an excellent competitor and a really good teammate. If we’re not going to have (Carpenter) it’s going to be big shoes for someone else to fill.”

If Carpenter can’t play, Morris said a competition between Justin McCray, Matt Hennessy and Matt Gono will take place to see who starts at left guard. Hennessy saw some rotational time at left guard during the first five games of the season. Beginning in Week 6, Carpenter started receiving the full allotment of game reps at the position.

Against the Raiders, McCray was the lineman tasked with filling in at left guard when Carpenter left the game.

“Justin’s done a nice job being a backup inside player for us in active game settings,” Morris said. “He can even go play center, a little guard on either side. And he can actually flex out and play some tackle for us. He provides a nice flexibility for us that we feel really comfortable with to put him at all those positions and being able to play him.”

Gono has been the Falcons’ swing tackle and jumbo tight end option for most of the season. He started at right tackle when Kaleb McGary was forced to miss Week 3′s game against the Chicago Bears.

Morris also said that based on how the week of practice goes, it could be more than one player rotating at left guard if Carpenter is forced to miss time.

Heading into this season’s rematch against the Saints with injury concerns at receiver and left guard is not an ideal position for the Falcons. In addition, the Falcons must wait and see if running back Todd Gurley (knee) will be able to return as well.

As the week of practice progresses, the Falcons will certainly hope they don’t have to dive too deep in either of the outlined contingency plans.

“Injuries stink, they’re the worst part about football in general,” Koetter said. “It’s just something we have to deal with, especially late in the season.”