One of the most intriguing battles in Falcons training camp this summer is going to happen at left guard, a job that is truly wide open for the first time in years. Getting it right—or as right as possible, given that peak Andy Levitre is not walking through that door—is going to be one of the more important things Atlanta does this summer. Protecting Matt Ryan and installing an actually effective ground game is critically important, after all, and the left guard and center spots are both currently unsettled.
It’s not a final list, given that the team will likely add more talent to the battles if they can swing it financially, but we have a sense of who the competitors at both positions will be for the moment. The breakdown appears to be rookie Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy at center, with Dalman also factoring in to the left guard battle with Matt Gono, rookie Jalen Mayfield, and free agent addition Josh Andrews.
Josh Andrews, Matt Gono, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman are four players Ledford said who could see time at left guard as they try and evaluate who will be the starter. Dalman & Mayfield have position flexibility which they value #Falcons— Kelsey Conway (@FalconsKelsey) May 5, 2021
None of the names on this list are a surprise. Hennessy and Dalman are the two most logical competitors at center, given that Dalman is fresh off a quality career there at Stanford and Hennessy played center at Temple before filling in at the position late last year with Alex Mack’s season ending prematurely. It remains to be seen how much of a factor Dalman will be at left guard if he’s going to push Hennessy at center, but the team signed Andrews after he started four games there for the Jets last year, have some tape on Gono at left guard to consider, and made it clear Mayfield’s getting his first shot at guard in the NFL after playing tackle at Michigan. I think you’ll be able to add a couple of undrafted free agents to the mix, too, including recent Falcoholic interviwee Ryan Neuzil.
There will be dominoes that fall depending on who wins this job. If Gono ends up as the left guard, it removes perhaps the team’s most logical candidate for the swing tackle role, potentially auguring a shift for Mayfield to tackle or an outside signing. If Dalman wins it, you’d expect Hennessy to take center basically unchallenged. If it’s Mayfield, you probably have Gono as the swing tackle, Andrews as guard depth, and Dalman at center, with one position left to be filled. If Andrews wins it, just flip what I just said about Andrews and Mayfield. No matter how that shakes out, it’s easier to feel good about the depth Atlanta will have on hand than a starter’s chances of being a huge asset right from the jump.
If you look at this group and think they seem light on experience, you’re correct. Andrews has more starts at left guard in the NFL than the rest of this group combined, which is why I think a veteran competitor is not just a possibility but likely once the team frees up some cash. It’s worth remembering that experience did not give the Falcons a great left guard situation in 2019 and 2020, though, as James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, and Justin McCray all had their struggles holding down the fort at the position. Dwayne Ledford is going to be confident in his ability to coach these players up, and given his stellar reputation coming out of Louisville, I’m optimistic he’ll get the best out of them. While I don’t know that left guard is his best position, Gono in particular is someone I have a tremendous amount of faith in.
Knowing the likely contours of these battles isn’t the same as knowing who will win them, and even that knowledge wouldn’t give us a sense of how good the interior of this offensive line will be in 2021 minus Chris Lindstrom, who figures to be a rock solid starter. Until we get much further along here, left guard and center will remain what they’ve been ever since the offseason began: One of the biggest question marks on the roster.