Cover 9@9: Falcons offensive line coach looking for speed, toughness

Falcons offensive tackle Germain Ifedi (74) does a drill with offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (76). Also pictured is offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons offensive tackle Germain Ifedi (74) does a drill with offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (76). Also pictured is offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford is a popular man.

He has three open positions, including center, left guard and right tackle.

Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy are fighting for the center spot.

Now, that the pads are on, Ledford can start getting some good evaluations.

“We are wanting to see the speed,” Ledford said. “I want guys playing fast coming off the football. We talked about the toughness aspect of it. It’s speed off the ball and toughness.”

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The offensive line’s toughness will get tested daily.

“When these guys come out here, it’s going to be some hot days out there, but when you first come out to practice you should be hot and ready to go,” Ledford said. “But how are you going to finish at the end of the day? That’s the toughness part of it.”

The linemen have been running downfield on running plays, picking up additional blocks.

“How are you finishing plays,” Ledford said. “We want guys that are straining through the whistles. Just make sure that we are seeing that aspect of it. We really want to make sure that we’ve got guys that are coming off the ball that are playing fast, straining and finishing plays for us.”

Kaleb McGary, a three-year starter whose $13.2 million fifth-year option wasn’t picked up, has held onto his spot thus far.

“Kaleb has done a really good job for himself this whole offseason, just the way that he’s kind of prepared,” Ledford said. “I think Kaleb is doing really well. He’s feeling healthy. He moving really well. Kaleb is a big human being. When he’s moving well. He’s doing a really good job in there.”

Germain Ifedi is expected to make a push for McGary’s spot.

“I’m also excited about Germain Ifedi, who we brought in here also,” Ledford said. “I’m excited about the things we’ve seen from him on the field as well.”

Expect to see a lot of combinations along the offensive line during the exhibition season.

“We’ll rotate a lot of guys through so that everybody gets a chance to work with different people as well,” Ledford said. “That’s going to help us in the long run, when we get into the season as well. We’ll be rotating a lot of guys in with the ones and the twos as well.”

2. Indy Ice man: They are loving former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in Indianapolis.

One member of the media texted to the AJC, “Just gotta say ... Matty Ice is great to deal with, man. This dude is Peyton Part 2. Polished!”

3. Left-guard spot: Elijah Wilkinson has taken a clear early lead at left guard over Jalen Mayfield. Would the Falcons consider moving Mayfield back to tackle and let Justin Shaffer battle at left guard?

Wilkinson, who’s 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds, played at Massachusetts. He played four seasons with Denver and was with Chicago last season.

“I feel like I’m doing good,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a little bit of an adjustment from tackle to guard.”

Wilkinson, 27, had played in 58 games and made 27 starts, mostly at right tackle.

He didn’t know about the Falcons’ opportunities along the line.

“Honestly, I was just looking for a team that wanted me,” Wilkinson said. “I’m just ready to play football. I want to win games. I just want to win. Whatever I can do to make any of the 32 teams and especially the Falcons since they took a chance on me, that’s what I’m going to do. If that’s guard, tackle or center or on kickoff, it doesn’t.”

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4. Secondary glow: Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees discussed the secondary.

“In fact, in the secondary along with young guys, we’ve got two young safeties, but you got two veteran safeties right behind them, pushing them and telling them and helping them a lot,” Pees said. “And then we got corners out there and then you got Darren Hall and those guys, they’re over there fighting with Casey (Hayward) so the competition is good.

“Mike Ford has really shown up. It’s great to have Isaiah (Oliver) back. I’m feeling good about those guys.”

5. Pulling the ball down and running is now fine: A couple of times over the past few practices, quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder pulled the ball down and started to run.

That used to be a no-no, especially in 7-on-7 passing drills, as teams wanted to get the ball on time and work on the timing in their passing attacks.

But with more running quarterbacks in the NFL, taking off is more acceptable in practice.

“That is something that we didn’t do a good job of with some of the running quarterbacks when they broke contain or we lost contain on the rush and they got out and it hurt us,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “It hurt us in key moments with some very winnable games for us.”

Smith would rather the quarterback make the proper read and pass the ball. However, he sees the value and allowing them to run.

“I’ll allow it because it’s work that we need,” Smith said. “I get it because when you are in a 7-on-7, there’s no rush, but every once in a while, when you cover well enough, you’re going to have to transition when you are playing certain quarterbacks that can scramble. You’re certainly facing more of those it seems like every year.”

6. Shiloh’s Watson: The conversion of Leroy Watson from a tight end to an offensive tackle is off to a good start for the Falcons.

Watson, who played at Shiloh High and Texas-San Antonio, has bulked up to over 300 pounds. He played three seasons at Texas-San Antonio after two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College.

He played in 37 games at Texas-San Antonio and caught 25 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He mostly was used as a blocker at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds.

“I’ve been very pleased with him,” Ledford said.

Watson caught Ledford’s attention at the Falcons’ pre-draft locals day.

“We just really liked his movement and what we saw on the workout,” Ledford said. “We got him here, got him as a free agent and he’s done nothing but continue to put weight on. He’s over 300 pounds now and he’s really moving well.”

Watson will get a lot of action in the exhibition season.

“Leroy has a high ceiling,” Ledford said. “You just hope that he keeps progressing the way that he’s doing. I’m really excited about what the future holds for him.”

Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom also has been impressed with Watson.

“It’s impressive what he’s done,” Lindstrom said. “Just his story and what he’s been about. He’s a great guy. Brings great energy to the room. We love having him.”

7. Hawkins on quarterbacks: Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins has worked against quarterbacks Mariota and Ridder in drills and 11-on-11 action.

“Very smart,” Hawkins said. “Can run. Talented. Both have got great arms. They are throwing dime bags. Good leaders. Mariota is very poised. They are good quarterbacks. That’s what I see.”

8. Key dates for the Falcons:

Aug. 12: Exhibition opener at Detroit

Aug. 19-20: Joint practices vs. Jets in New Jersey

Aug 22: Exhibition game at New York Jets

Aug. 24-25: Joint practices vs. Jaguars in Flowery Branch

Aug. 27: Exhibition game vs. Jaguars at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Sept. 11: Season opener vs. Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

9. Depth chart: Here’s the AJC’s projected depth chart as the Falcons start practice:

OFFENSE

WR – Bryan Edwards, Cordarrelle Patterson, Frank Darby, Cameron Batson, KhaDarel Hodge, Stanley Berryhill

TE – Kyle Pitts, Feleipe Franks, Tucker Fisk

LT – Jake Matthews, Rick Leonard, Tyler Vrabel

LG – Elijah Wilkinson, Jalen Mayfield, Justin Shaffer

C – Drew Dalman or Matt Hennessy, Ryan Neuzil, Jonotthan Harrison

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Colby Gossett, Drew Dalman

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Leroy Watson

TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, John Raine, John FitzPatrick

WR – Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Geronimo Allison, Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Jared Bernhardt, Tyshaun James

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams, Tyler Allgeier

FB – Keith Smith

QB – Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, Feleipe Franks

DEFENSE

DE – Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Jalen Dalton

NT – Anthony Rush, Timothy Horne

DE – Ta’Quon Graham, Nick Thurman, Bryce Rodgers, Derrick Tangelo

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Quinton Bell, Jordan Brailford, Kuony Deng

ILB – *Deion Jones, Mykal Walker, Troy Andersen

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Dorian Etheridge, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nathan Landman

OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, Rashad Smith, DeAngelo Malone

LCB – A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts

FS (Left) – Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Dean Marlowe

SS (Right) – Richie Grant, Teez Tabor, Tre Webb, Henry Blank

RCB – Casey Hayward, Isaiah Oliver, Dee Alford, Matt Hankins

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P – Bradley Pinion, Seth Vernon

LS – Liam McCullough

H – Bradley Pinion, Desmond Ridder

PR – Avery Williams, Cameron Batson

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, Cameron Batson

* PUP list

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