The Falcons have unsettled depth along the offensive line. You know it, I know it, and that’s not exactly a pleasant thought even if the starting group should be strong. With just a couple of weeks of practice and preseason to go before roster cuts, however, it appears we’re getting closer to figuring this thing out.
That’s because Ryan Neuzil and Jalen Mayfield seem as thought they may be poised to grab a pair of spots, thanks in part to injury and in part to the team’s preferences. With Matt Hennessy expected to snag another spot if and when he’s healthy, the Falcons might be close to having their line figured out.
We’ll start with Neuzil, who is typically one of the better reserve linemen in the summer, but hasn’t grabbed a permanent roster spot owing to a crowded picture on the interior. In the here and now, though, Neuzil is making the most of his third year in the league and played quite well against the Dolphins. Critically, he can play both guard and center, having cross-trained at both positions. and is in his third season working with offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford and in this system. That experience and versatility helps a great deal, especially because one of his primary competitors in Ethan Greenidge was lost to injury and rookie Jovaughn Gwyn is running with deeper reserves.
Right now, Neuzil is the only experienced center on the roster, which is leading to him taking both first and second team reps in practice. With Drew Dalman out right now and Hennessy slowly working his way back, Neuzil is getting an extended audition, one he seems likely to ace given his consistent quality preseason play. The Falcons have to look at the risk of injury on the interior and conclude, as I might, that having extra depth there to start the season is wise. Neuzil should be able to grab a spot unless the Falcons are going outside the organization, because there’s little indication he has credible competition from the likes of Gwyn, Kyle Hinton, or Justin Shaffer at the moment.
Now let’s talk Mayfield. My timing is, as always, pretty terrible. I’ve had Mayfield penciled in for a roster spot basically all year, but I predicted that Josh Miles would take the swing tackle role given that Mayfield has had little-to-no exposure to left tackle that we’re aware of. Over the past couple of days, however, the Falcons have been getting Mayfield some snaps on that side, per eagle-eyed ESPN reporter Mike Rothstein.
Thoughts and observations from Falcons camp — Aug. 14: pic.twitter.com/FOxy7Kt4ts— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) August 14, 2023
I’ve said this more or less since Mayfield was drafted, but the Falcons clearly like him a lot. That horrendous rookie season and the injury that kept him out of the 2022 season essentially have torpedoed him in the eyes of the fanbase—sort of tough to blame fans, frankly—but Dwayne Ledford and Arthur Smith see potential and are trying to draw it out. The big shift back to his college tackle position after the rookie year shift to left guard seems to be one way they’re anticipating Mayfield getting there,
The upshot, either way, is that the team seems to want to give Mayfield a real shot to win a significant role. If they’re happy with how he’s faring at right tackle and they think he can credibly play swing tackle in case of an emergency, he’s on the roster.
Nothing is settled yet, as a stinker of a performance from Mayfield or Neuzil in the second preseason game could certainly give the team pause. But it feels like owing to injury or simply new opportunities, this duo will be on the roster come Week 1, potentially with significant roles.