The Falcons came into minicamp this year with 15 offensive linemen, and in a rare turn of events, all 15 were healthy and available.
That allowed the team to form three complete units. In past years, they had to cover some openings by having guys split time at two positions, and they formed two regular units plus two extra ad-hoc combination units to make sure that everyone got at least some reps in the right places.
But this year, they were able to form three groups - and stick with them. I didn't see any mix-and-match going on at all. The defensive lines constantly rotated and mixed up their combinations, but the offensive linemen stayed within their three groups.
As far as who looked good and who didn't... forget it. Minicamp is non-contact with no pads/shells. So other than saying everyone could figure out their left from their right, there's not much to report. We won't know what miracles Pat Hill has in store for us until we get into the exhibition games.
But what I *can* tell you is the groupings. For me, that's the most important part of minicamp anyway as far as linemen are concerned.
The Falcons essentially stuck with their standard protocol: the guys who held the #1 spots last year still work with those groups going into the first preseason game. Garrett Reynolds was a starter before his injury. Peter Konz was a starter at the end of last season. Joe Hawley ended the year under the cloud of his suspension. So Reynolds and Konz work with the first unit, and Hawley does not.
Likewise, Mike Johnson was ahead of Lamar Holmes on last year's depth chart. (They were both listed as #2s, but Johnson was the one that was active on game days. Holmes was inactive outside of Hawley's suspension.) So Johnson gets the first unit reps.
That's simply how the Falcons roll when forming the initial depth chart. It doesn't mean the contests are decided, though it will give the first unit guys a bit of an edge as they'll have more opportunities to showcase their skills against opposing first string players in preseason.
A key item to watch later this summer will be how many reps Konz gets at guard. The less he cross-trains during camp, the more likely he is to be our new starting center.
If the coaching staff starts leaning heavily towards one player over the other, they'll stack up as many reps as possible for that player at center - and focus on cross-training the one more likely to be the interior backup. So if we see Konz playing nothing but center in the later preseason games, it's a big hint that he's it.
For me, the biggest question here is whether Holmes and Mike Johnson will also take reps at left tackle with this group. I'd prefer not to see the undrafted prospects take all the reps here - when the season starts, we need the active guys to be ready to fill in for Sam Baker if necessary. Schraeder is a long shot to make the roster. Doing well at LT with this group would dramatically improve his chances, but he'd still be a fixture on the inactive list this year. I'm hoping we'll get some preseason reps for the players where the extra work might actually come in handy.
It hasn't had the press attention of Hawley vs Konz or Holmes vs Johnson, but be sure to keep an eye on Manley and Gunn working in the same unit during the exhibition games. There's a good chance the two of them will be directly competing against each other for one roster spot, and the last two preseason games might turn out to be their Thunderdome.
Having them in the same unit will theoretically showcase them against the same caliber of competition. If one thrives while the other falters, we'll have our winner.
Note that the roster on the team's official web site lists Smith, Goins and Savoie simply as "OL". Smith played center at Kentucky, Goins played guard at Central Florida, and Savoie played tackle at McNeese State.
So the first real item of interest here is that McClendon was snapping the ball rather than Smith. McClendon (who played guard in college at Tennessee) had extensively cross-trained at center before coming to Atlanta, and his ability to snap the ball was a major reason why we signed him. (We added him to the practice squad when Hawley was suspended. Konz had already taken over for Reynolds at right guard, leaving us short two centers while Hawley was out.)
I expect to see both Smith and McClendon working at center during the preseason games, and if he does well in that role, it would give McClendon an edge over the other guard candidates for one of the final roster spots. You want your active backup interior guy to be capable of playing all three inside positions, so that versatility could be a huge factor in the final decisions.
Likewise, it's a great chance for Smith to showcase his skills at guard and get reps at that position. He's another long shot to make the roster, but as a natural center he'll have the inside track for a potential practice squad berth. If he shows potential at guard in the exhibition games, that might seal the deal.
Also noteworthy: the roster listing that team staffers handed out to fans had Terren Jones at 6-7, 341. That's significantly bigger than his 320-pound listing on the web site. If it's true, he'd "officially" be the heaviest guy on the team (Manley is still listed at a svelte 309). Other significant OL deviations include Lamar Holmes listing at 333 and Alec Savoie at 322 on the sheet given to fans at minicamp.