One of the most important additions of the 2016 offseason came at the center position. No such move was made this year, however, as the position appears to be in good shape heading into training camp.
Current Depth Chart
Starter: Alex Mack
Backup: Ben Garland
Third-Stringer: Trevor Robinson
Let’s start with Robinson. With the surprise retirement of Hugh Thornton at right guard, Robinson will likely get a look at both guard and center during training camp. He’s started 21 games over his five-year career, seven as a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012 and 14 with the San Diego Chargers from 2014-15.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman didn’t perform well as a starter with the Chargers, which led to his dismissal from the team prior to the 2016 season. He was signed briefly by Atlanta in 2016 and has been brought back to presumably provide another body at training camp. Unless Robinson proves he’s a quality backup at both center and guard, he probably won’t be around in the fall.
Garland became a fan-favorite in 2016, in part because of his incredible versatility. Not only was he one of the immediate backups along the interior of the offensive line but Garland was also an impact player at defensive tackle.
This versatility is surely enough to keep Garland in the mix next season, but he could be in line for more than a backup position. With the vacancy at right guard, Garland will likely be given the chance to prove he can become a starter for the Falcons. Given the players in contention for that spot as of now, he’s got as good a chance as any. At the very least, he will be a dependable backup once again.
Although Matt Ryan was named the NFL’s 2017 MVP – and deservedly so – there are many Falcons fans who would say that Mack was the most valuable player for the team last season. Ryan’s stellar play coincided with the addition of a true anchor in the middle of the offensive line. Not since Todd McClure has Ryan had a dependable center in front of him.
Despite suffering a hairline fracture in his fibula in the NFC Championship Game, after which he said he could “barely walk,” Mack showed true grit by playing every down for the Falcons’ offense in the Super Bowl. He continues to recover from that injury, but Mack is expected to be back in the fold as the Falcons’ starting center. When healthy, he’s one in the best in the NFL.
If Mack is back to full speed by the start of the season, center will once again be a position of strength. Garland will provide a nice relief option if Mack happens to miss anytime, but it might prove problematic if he has to play in multiple games. The stability at center may have been a factor in the Falcons’ handling of the right guard position. Mack is a player who makes the players around him better and allows the offense to play to its full potential.