At left guard, the Falcons have Justin Blalock. He's a mean pass-blocking machine who's not excellent at run blocking, but overall he's a very solid starter. Unless the team somehow scoops up a top tier free agent—and there are none left—I can't see him going anywhere.
That's not the case for right guard, which is a hot mess at the moment. If you assume that Joe Hawley is in line to take over at center or at least serve as a backup there, then the Falcons still have four players right now competing for a starting job at exactly the same position. They are, in no particular order, the following.
- Vince Manuwai, who has to be considered the early favorite if he's healthy. Manuwai was a dominant run blocker in his Jacksonville days, and the Falcons were plagued by poor run-blocking at the position last year. The question is what he has left in the tank in his mid-30's, and whether he can improve on the laughably awful pass protection offered up by those who had the little RG next to their name in 2011.
- Garrett Reynolds. Reynolds was a tackle prospect miscast as a guard and it showed. He won the starting job out of training camp after Mike Johnson went down with an injury, and played himself out of a job by partway through the season. He's a capable enough run blocker but doesn't have quick footwork and was woeful as a pass blocker. He might get a shot, but I'd be more comfortable with him working on that footwork and going back to tackle.
- Mike Johnson. The Falcons thought enough of Johnson to make him a third-round pick in 2010, and he was in the running for a starting job in 2011. I had hoped he would win that gig over Reynolds, but he was hurt well before the season began and had to watch the season unfold from the sidelines. If he's fully recovered, Johnson possesses enough upside to make him a sleeper pick for starter and a certain member of the final roster if he can't quite pull that off. He's a very balanced guard who might represent the team's best shot at getting quality pass protection and run blocking out of the same guy, but he's behind the curve here.
- Andrew Jackson. The former President lost his season to an injury, but couldn't make it off the practice squad before that. I like his long-term upside, but he's an extreme longshot to win the job, to say the least.
My feeling on how this will shake out, in case you skimmed up above? I think if healthy, Manuwai and Johnson are the two leading candidates for a starting job, with the loser serving as a backup. Reynolds should make the team as a swing guy unless the team has really soured on him after last year. That leaves Jackson with an uncertain future, which is a shame given his awesome name.
How do you think the battle will shake out?