The Falcons offensive line depth has been, shall we say, rickety for some time now. Atlanta’s gotten by for years on sixth round draft picks, emergency signings and occasionally even a tight end playing tackle. As a result, the last time I went into a season feeling great about their backups and starters at the same time was...2012? It feels like a long, long time.
So the news that Atlanta’s heading into training camp without Matt Gono and Kaleb McGary, who were both placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, activated some old anxiety that was buried under a half inch of dirt and some loose weeds. Whether that concern is going to blossom into something approaching our customary level of line-related panic depends almost entirely on the unit’s health. After injuries have repeatedly opened up holes in the line in recent years, it’s not a concern to be lightly dismissed.
Here’s the team’s offensive linemen at the moment, with no real word on when we should expect Gono and McGary back. It’s worth noting that reserve Willie Wright on the reserve/COVID-19 list, as well. D. Orlando Ledbetter at the AJC was kind enough to tell us how the team lined up their starters this morning, and we have a fuller list below:
#Falcons oline: RT Jalen Mayfield, RG Chris Lindstrom, C Matt Hennessy, LG Josh Andrew’s, LT Jake Matthews.— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) July 29, 2021
- LT Jake Matthews
- LG Josh Andrews
- C Matt Hennessy
- RG Chris Lindstrom
- RT Jalen Mayfield
- Reserve guard/tackle Jason Spriggs
- Reserve tackle William Sweet
- Reserve center Drew Dalman
- Undrafted free agents/training camp competition Willie Beavers, Bryce Hargrove, Sam Jones, Ryan Neuzil, Joe Sculthorpe, Kion Smith
I can’t tell you that one of these undrafted players won’t be a gem, because the Falcons have gotten lucky in the past unearthing the likes of Tyson Clabo (a 2004 Broncos UDFA who found a home in Atlanta) and Ryan Schraeder (a Valdosta State product who turned into a terrific starter). Betting on one of them becoming a quality reserve in 2021 is a big bet, though, one that the Falcons can’t go all-in on at the expense of adding more depth.
If Gono and McGary are here, the team’s starters and depth would seem to be in solid shape, especially with Mayfield as a break-in-case-of-emergency option if he doesn’t win the left guard job. Andrews, Dalman, and perhaps Spriggs isn’t exactly a proven group, but Andrews is an experienced reserve, Dalman has evident promise and Spriggs is solid when healthy. We already know that Gono is a very good reserve tackle at minimum, and just getting him healthy would help me feel a lot better about the state of things, especially because he also is capable of playing guard.
If Gono is going to miss time—and if McGary will, though there’s no indication he will at this point—it has a downstream impact on everything. Without Gono, Spriggs or someone else may be needed to man swing tackle, and Spriggs has his own history of injury to point to as a concern. Bumping Mayfield over to tackle might help alleviate some of the concerns there, but it would mean relying on Spriggs and one of several unproven options as backups on the interior of the line. If it comes to that and nobody from the group of veterans and UDFAs stand out in camp, the Falcons are probably going to need to dip into free agency or sort through who’s available after teams make their final cutdowns to 53 players.
It’s fair to say we’re working with some uncertainty, unfortunately. New offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford was brought aboard to help elevate the level of play along this line and ensure that Atlanta’s group, like Tennessee’s with Arthur Smith at the helm, can at least achieve competence even if injuries do become a major factor. I have yet to see anyone I trust do anything but rave about Ledford’s abilities, and I may be a bit guilty of underselling his potential impact on this line by fretting this much over the team’s depth. Still, even with Ledford’s tutelage, there are so many “if this guy can just be better than he ever has been in his career” and/or “if this rookie can just be very good right away” cases along this line that expecting things to go smoothly across the board probably is setting us all up for disappointment.
I’ve been a staunch advocate for a pass rusher signing, given the team’s expected reliance on what boils down to scheme and a dream, but if Gono and McGary’s absences linger into the season then there’s little question they’ll need to go out and shore up the offensive line. They have the playmakers and the coaching staff on hand to be a force on that side of the ball, so hopefully these August worries over the offensive line depth turn out to be fleeting by the time actual Falcons football rolls around. If not, well, at least we have plenty of experience bracing for things to go wrong from those days spent watching the Jeremy Trueblood and Levine Toilolo as a tackle days.