Falcons Training Camp Battles: Mike Johnson Versus Garrett Reynolds

FLOWERY BRANCH GA - JULY 30: Mike Johnson #79 of the Atlanta Falcons runs drills during opening day of training camp on July 30 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It's time to ring the bell, put on the gloves and talk in an unintelligible, supposedly Philadelphian accent. ADRIAN!

Today's training camp battle pits a pair of young ofensive lineman against one another in a furious fight for the starting right guard position. One is a massive, road-grading supposed offensive tackle trying to leverage his considerable size and skill inside. In the other corner, an incredibly tough natural guard I branded an heir apparent to Harvey Dahl's starting job when he was drafted in 2010.

After the jump, let's get into the blow-by-blow.

Garrett Reynolds

A fifth-round pick back in 2009, Reynolds projected as a future starter at right tackle, should the Falcons let Tyson Clabo go. Here's what I wrote after he was drafted:

...I really do think Reynolds could be the starting right tackle for the 2010 or 2011 version of the Atlanta Falcons. There are real concerns with the athleticism and his role in the passing game, though, that will have to be addressed before we get to that point. Like fellow project Spencer Adkins, he may sneak up on you sooner than expected.

Fast forward to 2011. Tyson Clabo has just been re-signed to a four-year deal, so Reynolds' dreams of starting at right tackle for the Falcons have gone up like a pile of dry wood at a kerosene factory manned by a narcoleptic pyromaniac. Instead, he's running inside at right guard, which is not necessarily his most natural position. Alas.

What recommends Reynolds is his ferocity and competency as a run blocker, which was so frequently on display in his college career. At 6'7", he's a bit tall for a guard, but his size works in his favor in some ways, because he'll be facing gigantic defensive tackles and 3-4 ends. His ability to keep those guys busy while a running back glides by him is not in question.

What is in question is his ability to help out against the pass, and it is here that Reynolds' bid for a starting job will be wrought or broken asunder. The coaching staff is likely to watch tape from the pre-season carefully to see if he can handle sped rushers that come his way. It's obviously less of a concern for a right guard than a right tackle, but it's still a piece of his job.

With so little playing time, it's impossible to know whether Reynolds has become future starter I envisioned he would be. Still, we're about to find out.

Mike Johnson

Johnson was the presumptive favorite for the right guard job, but Reynolds has held his own in training camp and bad news arrived Sunday. Apparently, Johnson endured a concussion and was out of practice yesterday.

That's bad news, because any time Johnson misses severely damages his chance to win a job. A natural guard, Johnson was brutally effective as a member of Bama's offensive line. Based on his natural ability alone, I figured he'd be a starter by 2012 at the latest. You don't find too many college guards who project to be so well-rounded.

But Reynolds is more well-versed in the system than MJ, who has had a year of learning to Reynolds' two. And he's the better pure run blocker, though I do believe Johnson is more well-rounded. That plus the concussion could be enough to ensure that Johnson spends another year on the bench, albeit as the top guard behind an unproven starter.

Down the line, Johnson still has the higher upside and, I believe, a long-term future as the Atlanta Falcons' starting right guard. But unless he's back on the field soon and utterly dominant, it may not be 2011.

Who wins this fight to the starting job?

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