FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – They came, they saw, they conquered.
The Falcons’ beleaguered offensive line arrived here as one of the team’s bigger questions marks for the joint practices with the Jets and performed well in their one-on-one battles over the two days.
They didn’t win all of them, but definitely functioned at a high level of respectability.
Now, all that is left is for them to repeat their performance when the Falcons (1-0) play the Jets (1-0) at 8 p.m. Monday at MetLife Stadium.
“I love these joint practices” Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said Saturday. “It’s great work. It’s always a good way to break up camp and go against another team. It was very competitive.”
The Falcons did not work in shoulder pads Saturday.
“You have to be smart,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “If you don’t cooperate with somebody, you can have some bad collisions when you’re not in pads. You’ve got guys that don’t know how to practice the right way, and you get in some of those pick games that aren’t real when you’re not in pads. So, I appreciate that. Just keep it in perspective.”
Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom enjoyed working against the Jets.
“Really productive to come out here and get some work,” Lindstrom said. “It was different looks that you haven’t seen. You get more reps of different combinations in a highly competitive, high-leverage situation.”
Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary, who had his fifth-year option denied by the team over the offseason, went to work against the Jets. He was at the center of skirmishes during Friday’s practice. After winning a battle, he gave John Franklin-Meyers a “get off of me” shove, and that brought the players together for some jostling.
Later, McGary and Lindstrom handled a stunt from Franklin-Meyers and Solomon Thomas, and that ended with more of what Smith called “peacocking.”
The Falcons offensive line has given up 40 sacks in each of the past three seasons. The Falcons also had trouble running the ball over that period.
The Falcons could muster only 85.4 yards rushing per game, which ranked 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. The Falcons averaged only 3.69 yards per carry, which ranked 30th overall.
McGary has said the contract snub has provided him with motivation for the season.
“He’s come a long way; he really had his first healthy offseason,” Smith said. “I think he’s playing really good football right now.”
Lindstrom believes the line is coming together.
“It’s getting there,” Lindstrom said. “We are just gearing up for the season. Just as many reps that you can bank. We are just getting a feel for each other.”
Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota has noticed the offensive line’s work.
“It starts up front, and those guys continue to find lanes for our guys,” Mariota said. “In practice, sometimes, things get a little muddy. You can see it, and it really starts up front. Those guys are doing a good job.”
The Falcons entered camp with three positions up for competition in right tackle, center and left guard.
McGary has run away from the competition at right tackle. Germain Ifedi, a former first-round pick who signed in the offseason, has been mired with the second-team offensive line and hasn’t moved ahead of McGary.
“I think Kaleb is playing awesome,” Ledford said. “I’ve seen him play, you see a lot of energy. You see him playing extremely well with his pad level. I think you see his movement. He’s moving extremely well this year.”
Elijah Wilkinson has taken a sizable lead over Jalen Mayfield at left guard, while Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy are waging an all-out battle for the center spot.
Mariota is fine with the rotating centers.
“I’m more along the lines of throw out whoever,” Mariota said. “I think that makes us better all in all.”
The loser of the center competition could enter the competition at left guard.
“Unfortunately, we kind of know the nature of this business, and sometimes you have to be prepared to have six or seven guys up front,” Mariota said. “It doesn’t bother me one bit. I think both of those guys are doing a great job. Really at that position, it’s about just being able to communicate, and they are really good at that.”
Running back Qadree Ollison noted that there actually have been lanes to run through.
“Nothing happens by one player doing something supernatural,” offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “All 11 guys have to be on the same page. There were times that we were, and there were times that we need to coach better and make sure that they are.”
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com