There are only so many big questions to ask about preseason that haven’t been on our minds for months. Preseason is not the place where you learn how good a team actually is or what your coaching staff intends to do in season, but it is a place where we can gain a better understanding of how roster battles might play out.
That’s the primary intrigue for Friday night. The Falcons released their first depth chart yesterday,
As you might expect, my biggest question concerns one of the lines. This week, at least, it’s on the offensive side of the ball.
What’s the pecking order along the offensive line?
As you might imagine, this is a very big question. The only two known, locked-in starters on the offensive line today are Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom, both thankfully very good players. Everything else is at least a little bit up in the air.
This big question has several smaller components. We know, for example, that Matt Hennessy appears to have taken the starting center job in camp given the amount of work he has gotten with the first team there, so I’d fully expect him to get some reps early in the game and duck out later in favor of Drew Dalman or undrafted free agent Joe Sculthorpe. Similarly, Josh Andrews continues to run fairly unchallenged at left guard, and an early exit for him would seemingly confirm that he has a strong leg up on the job.
Things are most interesting at right tackle, where Kaleb McGary should be expected to start but won’t even get into the game on Friday, per Arthur Smith. The depth chart and recent practices indicated Willie Beavers is running with the starters, and that could go one of a couple of ways. It could mean the Falcons intend to give him a lot of run at right tackle to see if he can carry this momentum into a roster spot and potentially push McGary, or it could mean he’ll only play a couple of series and then exit in favor of rookie Jalen Mayfield. Mike Rothstein at ESPN got some clarity on this battle that makes it clear Beavers is in a solid position to end up swing tackle if he excels in these three preseason games, but Mayfield’s likely extended run at right tackle makes it clear he’s probably sticking there.
Sounds like Falcons OL Willie Beavers will get some LT work on Friday and Jalen Mayfield at RT.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) August 11, 2021
Also sounds like Jason Spriggs will be returning next week, same with Kaleb McGary. Right tackle competition about to get real.
If Beavers and Mayfield play well and Andrews and Hennessy prove to start and only play a short time, the biggest intrigue from there will come with where Drew Dalman plays and how he does, as well as how the remaining backups and undrafted free agents slot in and fare against the Titans. It seems doubtful that things will shake out quite that cleanly, but if that’s the case, the Falcons probably only have 1-2 truly open roster spots left on the line. I’d keep a close eye on veteran Jason Spriggs and young reserves Sam Jones, Ryan Neuzil, Bryce Hargrove and Joe Sculthrope for those roles, with Spriggs’ versatility and experience likely helping him and Sculthorpe’s ability to play center potentially critical if Dalman gets more guard work.
At the end of the day, I would expect the Falcons to try to carry fewer than 10 linemen, which is what the Titans broke camp with last year for their initial 53 man roster, with an emphasis on versatility and upside among their reserves. Maybe the most interesting question out of all these at the moment is whether Willie Beavers will complete his rise and lock down a swing tackle role I hadn’t even considered him competing for, but more broadly, the offensive line will be worth watching Friday night.