Falcons’ offensive line competition is hot, heavy

Falcons offensive tackle Germain Ifedi (right) goes against linebacker Arnold Ebiketie during a one-on-one blocking drill during training camp Tuesday in Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

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Falcons offensive tackle Germain Ifedi (right) goes against linebacker Arnold Ebiketie during a one-on-one blocking drill during training camp Tuesday in Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons are in the early stages of reconstructing their offensive line in what is the fiercest competition of training camp.

Three incumbents are in battles to retain their starting spots: right tackle Kaleb McGary, left guard Jalen Mayfield and center Matt Hennessy.

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Mayfield is working with the second team as Elijah Wilkinson has worked with the first team for the past five practices.

Hennessy has alternated days with Drew Dalman at center.

Only left tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Chris Lindstrom are safe.

“I think that we’ve got a lot of good competition right now,” Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. “We’re going to be rolling a lot of guys around to a lot of different positions.”

The Falcons plan to take their time before making the decisions.

“It’s our job by the time that training camp ends we ... make sure we have what we feel like is our best five out there to go into Week 1,” Ledford said. “I feel like we’ve got some really good competition. We’re going to give a lot opportunities out there to some different guys.”

The Falcons want to make sure that everyone gets a fair opportunity. They are charting all of the plays, snap counts and competitive situations.

Mayfield, who was drafted in the third round out of Michigan last year, started at guard in 16 games as a rookie. He played tackle in college but was converted to guard.

“Jalen was really young last year (21),” Ledford said. “... Obviously, the older you get, the more mature you are going to get.”

ExploreFalcons’ offensive line competition is hot, heavy

Mayfield had a couple of tough battles in one-on-one drills Tuesday. Marlon Davidson and Nick Thurman pummeled Mayfield in their matchups.

Wilkinson, who has started 27 games over five seasons, signed in March. He’s also trying to convert from tackle to guard.

“Elijah is a great athlete up front,” Ledford said. “He can move extremely well, but he also has really good power. He’s got good heavy hands. It’s just good seeing those these first couple of practices out here.”

Wilkinson had a rough day trying to block Grady Jarrett on Monday, the first padded practice. He said he is working through the adjustment of the move from tackle to guard.

“It’s a little bit faster,” Wilkinson said. “Bigger guys. You have to bring the fight to them. I’ve just been working, trying to get better every day. It’s a different mindset at guard. At tackle, you’ve got to be nice and patient. At guard, it happens now.”

“He’s got a really good feel for the inside,” Ledford said. “He’s a big, thick … he’s a good-looking guy on the inside. Strong and powerful.”

McGary, a three-year starter, is holding off veteran Germain Ifedi, who also signed over the offseason.

“He’s doing great,” Ledford said. “He’s doing really well. I think Kaleb has done a job all offseason in getting into it. … You see it now in training camp, the way that he’s moving. He looks really good out there right now.”

McGary didn’t have his $13.2 million fifth-year option picked up over the offseason.

“We can’t afford to waste time thinking about that people are after my job or after me or whatever,” McGary said. “You kind of have to let that go. Just show up and work your tail off every day as hard as you can.”

The Hennessy and Dalman battle could go down to the wire.

“It is (a legit) battle,” Ledford said. “The great thing about those two, Drew and Matt and even Ryan Neuzil there, those guys are all so close with one another. They pull for each other. They help each other out. It’s a great competition.”

Hennessy is ready for the battle.

“A lot of it has to do with mentality and how I approach things,” Hennessy said. “How I approach my relationships with the other guys. Obviously, we’re on the same team, but at the same time it’s my job to get those guys back in line. So, I’ve got to get that done.”

Quarterback Marcus Mariota has sensed the intensity of the battles along the offensive line.

“When you have leaders like Jake in there that can rally the troops and get guys going, you can see it,” Mariota said. “The play on the offensive line has really elevated, and that makes us all excited.”

The Falcons are looking for some players either to step forward or improve drastically.

“We’re not going to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to spend a lot of money on a center,’ or ‘We’re not going to spend a lot of money on a right tackle,’” general manager Terry Fontenot said. “Because if you get the right player there, then you’ll adjust. I think that’s a player-by-player basis really at any position.”

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