Editor's Note: This story is a part of the Rookie Review series, which evaluates each individual of the Falcons 2021 rookie class, how they performed in Year 1 and what's ahead for them in Year 2.
Drew Dalman was more involved in the Falcons game plan against Jacksonville than any other before it. The rookie fourth-round pick was set to rotate with starting center Matt Hennessy, two drives on, two drives off in the crucial non-conference matchup.
He didn't call his family immediately. He didn't ask them to fly out to see the affair. The Stanford product made his NFL debut weeks before, and he didn't want to let secrets out.
"I kept it to myself," Dalman said in early December. "I didn't know what kind of information would get out there so I just wanted to be smart about it. They're familiar enough with the game to understand, but they were excited it went well."
The center rotation was executed in a win over Jacksonville and a home loss to Tampa Bay before Dalman went back exclusive to reserve duty, but every snap is valuable during a rookie season. He got better from those in-game moments.
Same can be said about his experience working with Hennessy, with only a season's experience up on him. And while there's some natural competition between two guys who want to be the starting center, Dalman says the two got along great.
"Matt has been one of the best teammates I've ever had, just teaching me and getting me up to speed," Dalman said. "He has been awesome, and I have been trying to support him however I can."
A look back
Dalman played 68 offensive snaps over the 2021 campaign, mostly at his natural center spot, with nearly as many on special teams.
He got some work at guard as well, playing both spots during training camp and preseason games. Most of the year was spent in reserve duty, as expected for a fourth-round pick with more experienced options at his position.
Dalman feels like he progressed as a player, with plenty of room to grow and an opportunity to compete if he shows growth during his second offseason program.
What was learned in 2021
Dalman took his role as a reserve seriously, with one pervading thought each week. Be ready if called upon. For a center, that involves more than being physically ready. That position has to make checks at the line and make sure the protection's right.
Being well-versed in the opponent and its defensive scheme is required, even if he never takes a snap.
"I want to be comfortable mentally so that, if I were called upon, there wouldn't be any dip in communication across the O-line," Dalman said. "Everybody would have confidence that I know the game plan and that nothing would need to be changed. It's about studying those things and being as prepared as possible."
Areas for improvement
Analytics suggest Dalman was better blocking for the run than the pass during his rookie year, albeit using a relatively small sample size. Improving in both areas is required for him to make a run at the starting center gig, which Hennessy seemingly left open after 2021.
He didn't secure it during the two-game center rotation, which actually ended after a subpar showing against the Buccaneers.
Dalman must work on all aspects of his game to reach his primary goal, which is gaining the trust of his coaches, linemates and quarterback whether playing center or guard.
"I just want to be an O-lineman," Dalman said, "and I want them to feel comfortable with me playing both spots without having to worry about it."