The guard position is much like the tackle position coming into 2013: The left side is taken care of, but the right side is unsettled.
The chief difference between the two would have to be depth. While the Falcons have relatively little depth at tackle with Tyson Clabo and Will Svitek hitting the streets, they have quite a few young, intriguing options on the interior. There's an outside chance one of them wins the right guard job, and a much better chance they simply provide quality depth in 2013.
The unsettled position here is right guard, with the Falcons looking to get more out of the position than they got from rookie Peter Konz last year during his fill-in. I think they'll be able to.
Please not that for the sake of my sanity and the sake of brevity, I'm not going to list Mike Johnson at guard, even though he could certainly play there. Just fill that in as you read this.
Without further ado, the guards.
Starter, Left Guard: Justin Blalock
Blalock has followed an interesting trajectory. Just a handful of years ago, he was one of the team's best linemen and someone who got a fat deal to stick around. In 2012, Blalock was kinda just so-so.
Blalock has the draft pedigree. He's been a starter on the left side for a long time, and he's generally pretty good at keeping Matt Ryan's jersey clean. Blalock is not, however, an elite run-blocking guard, and his game could generally be described as a little above average. Or, if you want to be a little inaccurate and a little brutal, you turn to Pro Football Focus:
I know some people hate the term, but maybe Blalock is the definition of ‘Journeyman’.
The bottom line with Blalock is this: He's a perfectly serviceable starting left guard in the NFL, and a mighty durable one at that. He's not particularly likely to get much better or much worse, and chances are good he'll keep his starting job in 2013. Is he making too much money for his production? Probably. Am I glad to have a known quality you can count on at left guard? Yes.
Starter, Right Guard: Garrett Reynolds
Reynolds was very good in 2012 before he got hurt, providing quality run blocking and pass blocking for a line that sorely needed both. The problem was the injury, which robbed him of the chance to extend that production out over an entire season.
The play should be enough to give him another crack at the starting job in 2013. The Falcons will need as much stability as possible with potential new starters at center and right tackle, and Reynolds is a veteran with a track record now, albeit a limited one. He'd have to falter to lose this job, and I don't think he will.
Don't look for him to be one of the best right guards in the NFL or anything, but Reynolds should be more than solid in 2013.
Reserve: Peter Konz
Some believe Konz will be the starter at right guard. I do not, as I think he was drafted to be the team's center of the future and will wind up there. But he should be listed here in case I'm wrong. Ditto Joe Hawley, who I think will be in a dogfight for the center job as well. Either could play guard in a pinch, and both may be called upon at some point this season.
Reserve: Philipkeith Manley
A Falcoholic favorite. Manley is just 22 years old, has nice size for a guard and has caught the eye of the coaching staff. The fact that he's an undrafted free agent with only one year in the league is about the only thing working against him.
We haven't really seen Manley in action, but in college he was a dominant run blocker against so-so competition and more than passable in pass protection. Adjusting to the speed of the NFL is always a challenge for young guards from schools like Toledo, but the physical tools are all there. If the work ethic's there, too, I see good things ahead.
It's not outside the realm of possibility that Manley gets a crack at the starting right guard this year, but more than likely he'll be used as the top backup at the position, and he may even get some run at left guard if Blalock misses any time. He's someone to watch for the future, and quality depth now.
Reserve: Harland Gunn
The former Miami lineman can play center or guard, is just 23 and is actually a little bit bigger than our boy Manley.
The Falcons may well draft guards, and if they do, Gunn could be on the outside looking in. It would be a shame in a way, because he built a reputation in college for being a strong guard and a quality technician who didn't allow a single sack or draw a penalty in his last two years of college. That's awfully intriguing.
If the Falcons are willing to give him a shot, Gunn might be able to hang on as a useful piece of depth at multiple positions. How the draft unfolds will determine his future.
Practice Squad; Jacques McClendon
The 25-year-old Tennessee product has bounced around a bit, but there's a reason he stuck on the practice squad in 2012. The dude looks the part.
McClendon offers better size than either Manley or Gunn, and his strength is not at all in question. The Colts picked him up in the fourth round back in 2010 because he seemed like the kind of guy who could slot in nicely at right guard as a run-blocking mammoth. The fact that he didn't stick has a lot to do with his athleticism, as he's just not viewed as the kind of guy who can move. "Heavy-footed," read his scouting report.
The Falcons have multiple young, potential-laden pieces at guard now and could look to the draft to add more, so McClendon would seem to be a real longshot. As a pure run blocker who could add depth at guard, he's got a chance at sticking if the Falcons don't sink draft picks into the position later this month. Stay tuned.
The starters are likely to be slightly above average in 2013, so I can't exactly set off fireworks over guard. Still, above average starters paired with plenty of young, intriguing depth make for a position I feel good about for the upcoming season and the seasons ahead.