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Bair Mail: On Dee Alford at nickel, Marcus Mariota's chance to re-establish himself, center battle comes to a conclusion

Scott Bair hands Bair Mail over to Tori McElhaney. She answers your questions on Wednesday. 

Well y'all, Scott Bair has handed over the keys to the Bair Mail castle to yours truly once again. Hi! It's Tori, filling in for Scott as he works on a feature story on a certain quarterback that I believe will run at some point later this week.

Don't quote me on that, though. He may decide to hold onto it a little while longer to make sure you're paying attention!


Anyways, you've got questions. I've got answers. So, let's get into it.

Tarik N. from Knoxville, TN.

Big thanks to both you and Tori for all the hard work. To my question... The Falcon's released their official Week 1 depth chart and while it contained no major surprises, one thing stood out to me as odd. The meteoric rise of Dee Alford over the summer, throughout training camp, and into preseason made it seem like he had an outside chance of starting at nickel CB with Oliver on IR. This team desperately needs playmakers and Alford repeatedly found ways to make plays around the ball. Instead, he seems buried behind Mike Ford and Darren Hall at CB5. Based on what you've seen, is that a fair assessment of the CB room?

Tori: First of all, thank YOU for reading! Appreciate it.

Secondly, I wouldn't read too much into Alford being "CB5" on the depth chart. I actually went back and looked at the depth chart from Week 1 of the season last year and the Falcons didn't have Oliver listed as a "starter" even though we all knew at the time he would be the Falcons full-time nickel. He was placed behind Fabian Moreau on the depth chart, who played outside opposite A.J. Terrell. Think the spot Ford is in right now.

Does this mean the Falcons are going to run Ford out there at nickel over Alford? Perhaps. But it also may not mean that at all. We are going to see the Falcons deploy their nickel package on Sunday, and it's still possible that could be Ford in the slot. The last week and a half of the preseason saw the Falcons put Alford in the slot and Ford outside. This was different from where we saw Ford in the first weeks of the preseason, which was at starting nickel. I'm also not throwing away the possibility that we could see both in the role at different times according to what look Dean Pees feels like he needs to give. So, to answer your question: I wouldn't worry too much about not seeing Alford. I don't think that because he's listed at the bottom of the depth chart it means we won't see him at all. You're right in that he's made too many plays in the preseason to keep him off the field for long.

Krepton from Savannah, GA.

With Drew Dalman winning the starting center job, do you think that Matt Hennessy could get a run at left guard if injury were to strike? If so, is there a future for him on this offensive line?

Tori: Hennessy hasn't taken any left guard snaps this preseason. It was a pretty close call between him and Dalman for the starting center spot. However, I don't think it's out of the question to say that he could do what you're asking if need be. It would probably mean injuries have really set in for the Falcons if this had to happen, but many forget that Hennessy actually spent some time working at guard his rookie year when Alex Mack was the starting center. Dan Quinn even talked a little bit then about Hennessy pushing the would-be starter - James Carpenter - at left guard during 2020's training camp. So, do I think Hennessy could pick it up again? Sure. I don't think that's what I see happening, though. It would have to take some pretty drastic injuries and some fall-out in available free agents for that to happen, in my opinion.

So, where does that leave Hennessy? To be honest, I just have him on the back burner. The Falcons have decided they want to go with Dalman, for now. But we haven't seen Dalman in action with the first-team offense in a live, regular season game. Yes, we saw him last year rotating in at center about half way through the season. But put a heavy emphasis on the word rotating. We haven't seen Dalman for an entire game. There are still a number of questions surrounding how he'll handle that.

It's important to keep in mind that this is a long season, too. Who starts in Week 1 may not be who we see in the many weeks that follow. Injuries and synergy could play a factor in how much or how little we see of Hennessy this year. And if Dalman turns into the center the Falcons wanted him to be when they drafted him? It does call into question what Hennessy's future in Atlanta would look like long term.

Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Drew Dalman #67 walks out to warmups before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on Friday, August 12, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Jeff K. from Bend, OR.

No one has talked about Marcus having 5 offensive coordinators at Tennessee.. beyond injuries. Two years and some defense behind him he will make a run.

Tori: JEFF! Did you not read my initial column on Marcus Mariota when he signed with Atlanta back in March?! Because the turnover of which you speak of was a backbone of the entire 800 words that I painstakingly put together.

I'm kidding. But I'm also kinda not. So, I'll reiterate what I wrote then: Considering all he's been through since being drafted second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, if Mariota was jaded, perhaps no one would blame him. If he was closed off, maybe that could be excused away, too.

In his first five years in the league, Mariota experienced turnover at Tennessee at a rate some quarterbacks never experience in their entire careers.

So, no. I am not counting Mariota out this year, nor am I counting out what he can be. He's returning to a system he knows, alongside a coach he respects. He has an opportunity to do something hardly any quarterback in the league gets a second chance to do, which is to re-establish himself as a starter.

I - for one - am excited to see what Mariota does with the Falcons in 2022. I think he adds a new wrinkle to Smith's offense that we didn't see last year. Mariota has been drawn a difficult hand throughout his years in the league. If the Falcons (and Smith) can provide stability for him in 2022, I'm curious to see how that changes the way we view Mariota.

Call for questions

Submit your questions here for inclusion in Wednesday's mailbag.

We take a look at the top snaps from the final day of 2022 AT&T Training Camp practice in Flowery Branch on Thursday, September 1.


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