Falcons’ Jalen Mayfield returns, possibly could help at left guard

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford has been a juggler over the past few games.

The offensive line has faced its share of injuries and seen the birth of a child and is ready to move forward with another possible change before the Falcons (4-6) face the Bears (3-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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With all that has happened with the different running backs and three starting left guards, the Falcons have remained in the top five among rushing teams in the NFL.

“The thing I always say about this group is that I enjoy the way they come out and go to work,” Ledford said Wednesday. “Don’t get caught up in where you are in certain categories. It’s about what can I do today to get better.”

Elijah Wilkinson won the troubled left guard spot and was performing well. He missed one game early in the season against Seattle to attend to a personal matter.

Colby Gossett took over against the Seahawks on Sept. 25. Wilkinson returned and continued to perform well until he sustained a knee injury against Carolina on Oct. 30.

Former starting center Matt Hennessy took over against the Chargers on Nov. 6, but he also sustained a knee injury and went on injured reserve.

Gossett started in the second outing against the Panthers on Nov. 10.

“There are always constant things that come up that we are going to have to improve on, that we have to get better at,” Ledford said. “That’s the mindset that those guys have up front. I appreciate their work ethic and just how they go out and try to correct the things that have happened in the previous week or even weeks before.”

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The Falcons activated Jalen Mayfield, last season’s starting left guard, from injured reserve.

“It felt good,” Mayfield told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after practice. “There’s a lot of clean-up, but when you take this much off, you just have to build up good habits.”

Also, Chuma Edoga, who’s been working at guard and tackle, is a candidate at left guard. He was working with the first team during the open portion of practice Wednesday.

“I’ve been working at guard and tackle,” Edoga told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I got a couple reps at left guard today. I’m just cross training so that I’m ready to play whenever they need me to.”

Edoga, who played at McEachern and USC and was a third-round pick in 2019 by the Jets, was claimed off waivers Aug. 31.

Mayfield, who was a third-round pick (68th overall) in the 2021 draft out of Michigan, started 16 games as a rookie last season. He sustained a back injury in training camp and has been on injured reserve since the start of the season. He was working with the second team Wednesday during open practice.

“It’s part of the game; you’re going to have injuries,” Ledford said. “Those guys have stepped up and done a good job for us when they’ve had those opportunities.”

Before facing the Panthers in the last outing, left tackle Jake Matthews left the team in Charlotte to witness the birth of his first son in Atlanta. He returned just in time to play the game.

“That was amazing,” Ledford said. “Jake called early in the morning. When you get a call early in the morning from a player, you don’t know what to expect.”

Matthews and his wife were hoping to induce labor at a later date.

“You always have plans, and they were planning and hoping it was going to happen later, but those are out of our hands,” Ledford said.

Matthews was beaming after the game after witnessing the birth of his son, Beckett.

“It was so surreal how everything went,” Matthews said. “The timing couldn’t have been more close to catastrophic, but at the same time perfect.”

The Falcons will have 21 days to see if Mayfield is ready to return to the 53-man active roster.

“Whenever my number is called I’ll be ready,” Mayfield said. “It’s the NFL. If I’m called up Sunday...If I’m waiting to next week, I’m waiting to next week. Until then, I have to just build up good habits. Get ready for when my number is called.”

Mayfield had a back injury that didn’t require surgery.

“There was no surgery,” Mayfield said. “I talked to coach (Arthur) Smith and (general manager) Terry (Fontenot) and they thought it would be good to take some time off and get it back to 100 percent. It was the same thing that happened to me last year when I missed a game. We really wanted to get it calmed down and back to 100 percent.”

Mayfield has been working in the weight room.

“I’m excited to see him out on the field,” Ledford said.

Another issue coming out of the loss to the Panthers were the low shotgun snaps of center Drew Dalman. Ledford said the heavy rain falling that night was not a factor.

Ledford plans to make sure the centers are following through on their snaps and not dropping their hips.

“Drew has done a really good job snapping throughout the season,” Ledford said. “I know when he looked at the film, those are some of the things, right away, he knew this is what I have to do to correct that.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD