Because of a rash of injuries at the tackle position, the Falcons started Matt Gono, a former Division III star, at right tackle against the Redskins in Thursday’s exhibition.
Kaleb McGary, the projected starting right tackle, had a heart ablation procedure, and veteran Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) were unavailable.
Gono, who played at Wesley, a tiny liberal arts college in Dover, Delaware, played 30 snaps in his first NFL start.
“On the field, before I went out (Matt Ryan) told me that this was a good opportunity, a big opportunity for me,” Gono said. “When we were done playing in the second half, he told me that I did my thing. So, that’s what he told me. That felt good.”
Gono blocked against Washington’s four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan and held up on a quick passing play. He didn’t allow a sack, but gave up a pressure and one quarterback hit to Washington linebacker Montez Sweat as Ryan was getting the ball out quickly in the passing game.
Gono, after being signed as an undrafted free agent, made the 53-man roster last season. However, he didn’t play a game as the Falcons wanted to develop the raw prospect.
Gono, who’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 305 points, was coveted by several other NFL teams. He received the third-highest bonus signing ($7,500) of the 27 undrafted free agents signed after the 2018 draft. Only quarterback Kurt Benkert ($60,000) and defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner ($10,000) received more money.
The Falcons had to outbid the Bears, Lions, Packers, Jets and Bills for Gono, a late bloomer, who wasn’t heavily recruited out of Cinnaminson, New Jersey.
He started at right tackle as a freshman for the Division III school. He shifted to left tackle as a junior. He started all 50 games of his college career.
“This was a big difference from the school that I came from,” Gono said. “I’ve been building confidence, especially leading up to this second year. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable at left and right tackle. I was playing left the first few (exhibition) season games. I’m feeling a lot more confident in my ability to do everything.”
While being inactive last season, Gono tried to learn as much as he could in practice. Former Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder was a big help, he said.
“I feel that it went well,” Gono said. “There are definitely some things that I have to clean up, but I felt like I had a solid performance.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn seemed pleased with Gono’s showing.
“I felt exactly like I hoped it would,” Quinn said. “Watching the game and the guys, and it feels real normal. That’s what you hope to see.”
Basically, Gono didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
“His teammates, both Matts (Ryan and Schaub), have a lot of confidence in Gono,” Quinn said. “Coming in, I had high expectations. I think one of the hits might have been on him as he went to the outside edge. I love that he got matched up against a player that I have high regard for in Kerrigan. I’m not sure how many that he got against him or anybody else. It was good to see him function. He has really put the work in.”
McGary is back working out with the team, but is likely weeks away from being able to contribute. He hasn’t been cleared for contact. Sambrailo could have played it were a regular season game.
But know the Falcons know that Gono can go in a game and function as a backup tackle.
“It’s definitely a big difference,” Gono said. “I feel that I had a lot of good development the past two years, so I felt confident coming into this year.
“I just tried to come into this week treating it like practice. That was the approach I tried to take. I was not over thinking it. Just studied film and tried and treat it like any other week.”