“Chris Lindstrom continued to improve,” Smith said. “He had a good season last year. He’s got to continue to do it again and improve.”
The remaining three positions – right tackle, left guard and center – will be hotly contested in training camp.
“(The offensive line) is a developmental position, and you find guys any way you can,” Smith said. “If you look at people that have had a sustained run of success, it doesn’t ... it certainly helps them … if you feel great and you take a guy in (the) first round, but it’s not like you need five first-rounders to be a good offensive line.”
The Falcons passed on Oregon tackle Penei Sewell in the 2021 NFL draft and Mississippi State tackle Charles Cross in the 2022 draft. Sewell was selected by the Lions three picks after tight end Kyle Pitts. Cross went to Seattle one pick after wide receiver Drake London was taken eighth.
The Falcons gave up 40 sacks last season, and the rushing attack averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 85.4 yards per game, which ranked 31st of 32 teams in the league.
“You need the right guys in there with the chemistry who can play,” Smith said. “Versatility is key. It’s a long season. It’s 17 games. You’ve got eight guys up on game day. Guys (must) be able to play multiple spots.”
The Falcons plan to keep Jalen Mayfield, a college tackle, at left guard.
“Right now, we’re keeping Jalen at guard and then getting him more comfortable in playing that position,” offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. “I think Jalen has done a good job all offseason getting stronger. You want to see progress in guys from Year 1 to Year 2.”
Mayfield, who was drafted in the third round in 2021 from Michigan, played 989 snaps on offense and led the league in sacks allowed by a guard, with 11. He also had nine penalties, which normally were drive killers. Mayfield had a 49.3 (F) grade from Pro Football Focus. Colby Gossett started the regular-season finale for Mayfield.
“Gossett is another guy that we picked off waivers,” Smith said. “He has a chance to compete as well.”
Right tackle Kaleb McGary had a 62.4 (F) blocking grade from PFF and allowed nine sacks, which tied for second in the NFL among tackles.
“He looks great,” Ledford said. “He’s really healthy right now. He’s moving really well. He’s somebody, as we look at it from OTAs and the offseason, he’s done everything that we’ve asked of him. He’s done a great job. He looks really good.”
Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman will compete for the starting spot at center.
“That’s going to be really fun to kind of see those two kind of battle it out throughout training camp,” Ledford said.
The Falcons added veteran free agents Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson and drafted former Georgia guard Justin Shaffer. Ifedi will push McGary for the starting right tackle spot after the Falcons elected not to pick up his fifth-year option.
“So, we know Ifedi,” Smith said. “He’s a guy who was drafted high in Seattle. He’s been in Chicago. We’ve got coaches and personnel people that worked with him. He’s got every chance to compete.
“Same thing with Elijah Wilkinson or anybody we brought in here. Guys that we’ve added late last year like Rick Leonard. Guys are going to be given an opportunity to compete.”
The Falcons plan to continue to develop their young talent in Mayfield, Dalman, Shaffer and undrafted tackles Tyler Vrabel and Leroy Watson.
“He’s been kind of a hybrid blocking tight end, but we like his skill set,” Smith said of Watson, who played at Texas-San Antonio. “That was part of our plan for him when we signed him. See if we can turn him into a (offensive) lineman. We’ll start him at tackle, which isn’t that far removed from playing (at tight end). We’ll see where it goes.”
The Falcons plan to cobble together the offensive line.
“So, you’ve got 15, 14 guys,” Smith said. “They’re at different stages of their careers, but you’ve got real competition in there. We drafted three guys the last few years. We’ve added free agents.”
The Falcons will hold joint practices with the Jets and the Jaguars. The offensive line will get tested in both of those outings.
“I’m excited about getting some pads on him and seeing him out there in training camp,” Ledford said of Ifedi. “Wilkinson and Germain, both of the guys that we brought in have looked really, really good throughout the whole offseason.”
Ifedi also has played some guard, and Wilkinson has played some tackle.
“So, it’s getting those guys in the right position, seeing what they can do for us and then putting them in the right places,” Ledford said. “So, that’s just going to be a process.”
The Falcons focused on individual improvement over the offseason with the offensive line.
“Once we get the pads on because that’s what it takes,” Ledford said. “When we get the pads on, you get to see guys straining. Making contact and just how they are with the things we’re going to ask of them.
“That’s going to be really the true tell for us, when we get the pads on and see those guys out there competing.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.