Ben Garland fought Wes Schweitzer for a starting job this summer, and while he didn’t get it, he had been getting time at guard in recent weeks. Now all his hard work will pay off, as he’ll start his first NFL game at left guard for these Falcons Thursday night.
Garland, who spent time as a backup center and guard in 2016 and dabbled at defensive tackle, is a versatile fan favorite who has appeared in 28 games for Atlanta since he joined the team. He’s never played poorly when asked to get onto the field, but when you have Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, and a young guard option like Wes Schweitzer, it’s tough to crack the starting lineup. Aside from a costly holding call against the Vikings, he held up pretty well in a long look, and he’ll be the starting left guard for at least this week, and probably as long as Levitre is out.
I have reasonable confidence that Garland will hold up, especially this week against a talented but shy-of-elite Saints interior. The problem is that the interior of this offensive line was already struggling a bit over the last couple of weeks, and not having Levitre at all probably means more trouble, even if Garland fills in as admirably as expected. I’m thrilled for him—you can’t argue he hasn’t paid his dues to get here—but it’s one more concern in a game full of them for the Falcons, who more or less have to win here.
This is a great opportunity for Garland to make the case that he should return in 2018, as well. The Falcons will eat some money to cut ties with Levitre next season, and while I don’t expect them to do so, Garland would be a cheap stopgap option at left guard if he proves he’s up to the task in the coming weeks. After Sean Harlow rides the pine for an entire season as an inactive, as I expect he will, there is no guarantee he’ll be ready to compete for a major role as soon as next season.
For now, though, let’s just say we’re happy for Garland and hope he wrecks the Saints.