The Falcons did what few NFL teams can manage: Rebuild the offensive line with top draft picks and signings. Last season’s Week 1 right tackle Ryan Schraeder was demoted then cut after a very poor year. He was replaced with Ty Sambrailo, who was eventually handed a three-year, $14.25 deal. That did not stop the Falcons from trading back into the end of the first round to select Kaleb McGary.
Things appeared to change a lot since then. McGary missed almost all of training camp after undergoing a cardiac ablation procedure announced on July 31. It was reported he would likely be out four to six weeks, then would need to improve his conditioning, then needs to battle for the starting spot. In his absence, Sambrailo got injured, backup Matt Gono looked good, then supplanted Sambrailo at the top of the depth chart. McGary returned to individual drills on August 21, and finally suited up and looked good in the final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now Matt Gono has been ruled out Week One against the Minnesota Vikings.
If you are keeping track, that is a lot of lead changes for the right tackle job. On Wednesday, McGary told the media he had no idea if he was going to start. He practiced in full, with head coach Dan Quinn telling the media that McGary will be active but conditioning will play a huge role. It is unclear if Quinn meant conditioning relates to whether McGary will start or play the entire game.
At this point, McGary is almost certain to at least rotate in with Sambrailo. Before Gono was ruled out, Quinn suggested that Sambrailo would become the swing tackle if Gono could not play. So Quinn will not say McGary is the starter, but by process of elimination, he is the starter.
McGary admitted after the Jacksonville game that he was still working on his conditioning, but he may not be as far behind as someone dealing with a standard injury. He was out of contact practice primarily due to the use of blood thinners after the procedure, but was able to do other work. McGary may be well ahead of others who were forced from practice due to something like a knee injury.
It should be an easy decision for Quinn. The team can monitor how McGary plays and plug in Sambrailo if and when he is needed. Just based on their preseason performances, McGary has absolutely earned the starting spot. Even ignoring all that, you know the coaching staff wants to unwrap and unleash their newest offensive lineman. We expect to see that on Sunday.