Falcons’ next man up: Jalen Mayfield at left guard

073021 Flowery Branch: Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield (left), the team's third round draft pick, gets in some work next to Chris Lindstrom the second day of training camp practice at the team training facility on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Flowery Branch.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
073021 Flowery Branch: Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield (left), the team's third round draft pick, gets in some work next to Chris Lindstrom the second day of training camp practice at the team training facility on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Flowery Branch. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Because of an injury to Josh Andrews, Falcons rookie offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield is slated to start at left guard in the regular-season opener against Eagles on Sept. 12.

Mayfield, who played at Michigan, was selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft. He spent most of the offseason at left guard, but also played some right tackle. He played 123 snaps during the exhibition season, and he took part in the two joint practices against the Dolphins.

Andrews suffered a broken hand during the closed portion of practice Tuesday and was placed on short-term injured reserve Wednesday.

“The biggest assessment on (Andrews) will be how quickly he heals,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “I don’t want to put a timeline on it. It’s unfortunate. It was a freak thing that happened. It’s a big opportunity for Jalen Mayfield.”

The Falcons have stated that their roster is fluid and they will continue to peruse the waiver wire. They also could elect to trade for an establish veteran like the former regime did in 2015 when they sent a fifth-round pick and a conditional pick to Tennessee for left guard Andy Levitre, who’d worn out his welcome in Nashville.

But for now, Mayfield is the left guard until further notice.

“Jalen, he needs to be ready to go,” Smith said. “It could be somebody else. That’s why you continue to monitor the waiver wire and some of the other guys that we got. Some of the guys we may have on the practice squad or (Drew) Dalman or whoever.”

Mayfield will have quite the matchup in the opener as the Eagles’ defense features six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who’s a menace to most guards in the NFL. He lines up mostly over the right guard, but could slide over to face the rookie at times.

“We got him a lot of experience (in the exhibition games) and we have to get him ready to go,” Smith said.

Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford mentioned Mayfield along with Andrews, Matt Gono, Dalman and Matt Hennessy as possible left guard candidates over the offseason. He promised to play the best five offensive linemen.

“We can try to duplicate game situations, as good as we can get game speed, but there is nothing that replaces a game,” Ledford said. “To be able to get guys game experience, that’s invaluable.”

But is Mayfield ready to start?

“Jalen has been working hard day in and day out,” Ledford said. “I know that Jalen is going to prepare and that he’s going to prepare hard. He’s going to give it everything that he’s got to be prepared for that opportunity.”

Hennessy won the center spot. Gono is on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Dalman is the backup center.

Mayfield, who’s 6-foot-5 and 328 pounds, was projected by some draft analysts to go much higher in the draft, possibly late in the first round. However, he slipped to the third round.

Mayfield started 13 games at right tackle in 2019 for the Wolverines. He opted out of the 2020 season, but later changed his mind.

He played in two games at right tackle before he suffered a high ankle sprain.

Mayfield played in just over 1,000 snaps in the Big Ten. He anchored an offensive line that paved the way for a running game that gained over 2,200 yards with 26 rushing touchdowns in the 2019 season.

In 18 games, the Michigan-native allowed only two sacks.

Mayfield is the fifth player the franchise has drafted from the University of Michigan and first since 1978. He joins offensive tackles James Coode and Mike Kenn, linebacker Carl Russ and running back Bill Taylor.

Mayfield caught NFL scouts attention as a sophomore when he play a strong game against Ohio State’s Chase Young, who was considered the top pass rusher in the nation at the time.

He was elated to receive so much action during the exhibition games.

“There’s a lot of things to build off of,” Mayfield said after playing 45 snaps against Miami. “I thought for the most part I did pretty well, but I know there’s a lot I need to clean up. Technically, I’m not where I want to be yet.”

He played both right tackle and left tackle against the Dolphins.

“I felt pretty comfortable doing both,” Mayfield said.

Playing Mayfield so much in the exhibition season should help him relax heading into the Eagles game.

“I really found myself more locked in, more able to recognize what I need to do,” Mayfield said. “There’s a lot of stuff I can do better and the team can.”

Mayfield has received good work in practice when he’s matched up against two-time Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett.

“Just seeing every day going against guys like Grady and Dante (Fowler) and all the guys we have, just changing it up a little bit and going from blocking them every day to seeing different techniques used by other players on other teams definitely I thought was beneficial,” Mayfield said. “It gave me more of a perspective to see what the rest of the league is doing and what I have to expect.”

Mayfield is starting to feel more comfortable inside, where he’ll be next to second-year center Matt Hennessy on one side and left tackle Jake Matthews on the other side.

“Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable,” Mayfield said. “There’s still stuff, of course, I need to work on. … You find your weaknesses. You build off of that. You really try to anchor down and figure out what your weaknesses are to build off of that.”

Andrews, 29, signed a one-year deal with the Falcons in March after playing last season with the Jets. The 6-foot-2, 298-pounder has played in 40 NFL games and also spent time with the Eagles and Colts.

The Falcons claimed guard Colby Gossett off waivers Wednesday. He was one of the final cuts by the Cleveland Browns. Gossett, who played at North Forsyth High and Appalachian State, has played in five NFL games and made four starts.

Gossett, 26, opted out of the 2020 season. Gossett, 6-foot-5 and 331 pounds, was a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2018.

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