Compared to the more anticipated battle at right tackle—a battle that pits Lamar Holmes and Mike Johnson against one another for the right to protect the edge—right guard is an unassuming little battle. It's also an important one.
The Falcons had a rough time last year with a young, kinda out-of-position Peter Konz getting significant snaps at right guard while Tyson Clabo fought edge rushers next to him. Things had stabilized a bit by the end of the year, but there's no denying that Garrett Reynods was the most effective right guard when he played in 2012.
The fact that he's back would seem to make him the early favorite, but the right side of the line has a musical chairs flavor. Let's look at who might be competing for the gig.
Bio: 26 years old, 5 year Falcon, opened last year as a starter
There's no question that the Reynolds who started at right guard a year ago before injury is the best option for right guard on the Falcons' roster. The question is whether post-injury, Reynolds can play that well again, and whether last year was fluky.
Reynolds is a hulking right guard, an effective run blocker and someone who uses good instincts and footwork to overcome less than stellar athleticism. He came into the league as a tackle, so he's pretty big for a guard, but he makes it work.
Reynolds came back on a reasonable contract, and he's guaranteed nothing. Given that he was effective a year ago and is still just 26, you have to figure he's the early favorite for the job.
Bio: 24 years old, 1 year Falcon, started at right guard for 10 games last year
Konz played all over the line in college, but center was his position. The Falcons had little choice but to throw him to the wolves last year, though.
For a guy not playing his natural position in his first year, Konz held up fairly well, getting better as the year went on. Still, he doesn't have the traditional right guard strength and was pushed around at times. Couple that with the fact that he's the early favorite to win the center job and you have a guy who will probably only be in the competition if he faceplants at C. I fully expect him to win that job and take himself out of the running here.
Bio: 24 years old, 4 year Falcon, started zero games a year ago
It's fair to say that Hawley's 2012 was a bit disastrous, between his suspension and the fact that he went from 12 game starter to zero game starter a year ago.
Whether he can turn that around or not is the question. He's got other young players nipping at his heels, Konz and Reynolds would seem to have an early leg up and Hawley's beard could look fresher. The good news is that he's still only 24 and has done some good work in the past. While I don't consider him the favorite, he should be able to stick around as a valuable reserve.
Bio: The mostly UDFA brigade
These guys would all have to be considered longshots for a starting gig.
Manley, Gunn and McClendon all have shots to at least stick around, with Manley having enough potential to shoot for a starting job down the line. But all the guys in front of them have talent and more experience, which would seem to work in their favors. They'll need truly fantastic Julys and Augusts to make a run at the job.
The good news is that there's more than one serious competitor here and quite a bit of depth. When it's all said and done, though, I have a clear winner in mind.