Falcons taking emotion out of center selection

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Arthur Smith is not ready to declare a winner in the battle for starting center.

Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy have rotated every day during training camp in their bid to land the job. Hennessy was the starter last season.

“Are we closer? Yes,” Smith said Monday. “But not yet.”

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The Falcons are set to open the season against the Saints at 1 p.m. Sept. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Smith and his staff are taking a measured approach before picking the starting center.

“A little bit I want to step back because the competition has been so competitive,” Smith said. “I told both of (the) guys that they’ve handled it really well. That’s not an easy thing to do. The spirit of cooperation on a really competitive job opening. Both of those guys, I give them a lot of credit.”

Smith and his staff plan to review all of the film they have on both players.

Hennessy made the exhibition start against the Lions and Dalman against the Jets. Hennessy didn’t play in the final exhibition game, while Dalman played four snaps on special teams.

Over the first two games, Dalman played 43 snaps to Hennessy’s 36.

“I want to take a step back,” Smith said. “Go back through everything so we can take emotion out of it and make a good objective (decision).”

At one point last season, the Falcons tried to rotate Hennessy and Dalman.

“Everything is on the table, but that is not the plan,” Smith said. “If we thought that was the best thing for this team, we would do it. But (it) doesn’t mean that’s our plan. I’m not doing that … not platooning the quarterbacks. No, we’re not looking to do that at center right now.”

Hennessy was taken in the third round of the 2020 draft. He has played in 30 games and made 19 starts. Dalman was taken in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. He played in all 17 games last season.

“Both of them have been impressive,” Smith said. “Just like I’ve been impressed with the quarterbacks.”

It was the last practice before the team trims the roster to 53 players.

“It’s the same thing to me every time we got an opportunity to come out here,” Smith said. “The really good teams improve as the season goes on. Really good teams I’ve been around and you look (at) historically, you want to be trending in (the right) direction. You know, toward the end of the year. That’s our objective. Every time we step on the field.”

While center remains unsettled, the Falcons plan to keep looking to improve their roster.

“Yeah, I mean, they’re constantly looking at that,” Smith said. “I think 32 teams that are monitoring the waiver wire. Everybody’s got different philosophies. You can see some guys that were released over the weekend. Some guys (were released Monday and) it leaks out.”

This is Smith’s second cutdown as a head coach.

“Well, you know, it was a little bit different,” Smith said. “It’s going to be very fluid. So, what you may see (Tuesday) at 4, it may look different at 4 on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Without the (exhibition) season of four (games), these transactions happen earlier now.”

Also, the process is less complicated because of health concerns.

“Last year you were still dealing with some of the COVID restrictions,” Smith said. “So that was a different dynamic. We also played Sunday night. So, we didn’t practice on Monday. And, you know, we only get a certain number of practices this week.

“So, there are a lot of things that are a little bit different. The variables have changed, but like anything, you look at what we did in the past and what can we improve on. We’ve certainly done that.”

Wide receiver Jared Bernhardt, who played college lacrosse, led the Falcons in receiving during the exhibition season. He may have played himself into a roster spot, when most thought he’d be headed to the practice squad.

“He’s done a good job,” Smith said. “He’s come out here every day and worked. We’ll see what happens.”

Smith said he’ll look at players on film who may become available.

“If it’s something that you think is serious, yeah, I want to take a peek at who we may potentially bring in here,” Smith said.

Smith didn’t necessarily say which positions the Falcons were looking to add to.

“Any position that we think is going to help us, we’ll look at,” Smith said.

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