Rookie Jalen Mayfield to get shot at left guard spot

Falcons offensive lineman Bryce Hargrove (from left), Ryan Neuzil, Drew Dalman, Jalen Mayfield and tight end Kyle Pitts line up against the defense to run a play during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons offensive lineman Bryce Hargrove (from left), Ryan Neuzil, Drew Dalman, Jalen Mayfield and tight end Kyle Pitts line up against the defense to run a play during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons rookie Jalen Mayfield, who played tackle at Michigan, will get a shot a winning the open left guard position.

ExploreQ&A with rookie lineman Jalen Mayfield

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Mayfield said. “I’ve been challenged before (when) I had to move positions.”

The rookies arrived Wednesday and went through their final rookie minicamp practice Sunday in Flowery Branch.

“It’s a rookie orientation, there is so much to throw at them,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “They are coming off the pre-draft process and they get here … We are bringing them along slowly. Starting from the ground up.”

Mayfield made a move from left tackle to right tackle at Michigan. Chris Lindstrom is entrenched at right guard for the Falcons, who have openings at center and left guard after Alex Mack was not re-signed and James Carpenter was released.

Mack has since signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford mentioned Mayfield along with Josh Andrews, Matt Gono, Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy as possible left guard candidates. He promised to play the best five offensive linemen.

“I’m not really focused on that,” Mayfield said about playing guard. “I’m just focused on becoming a better player every day. Just focusing on being a good offensive lineman not specifying on what position.”

The Falcons have Jake Matthews at left tackle and Kaleb McGary at right tackle. The quickest path to get onto the field is at guard for Mayfield if he can make the transition.

“Just making sure that I’m ready wherever the team needs me, at tackle, at guard or center,” Mayfield said. “Just being very fluid and doing whatever I’m needed to do.”

Falcons rookie offensive lineman Drew Dalman (left) and Jalen Mayfield (right) run block on a play during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons rookie offensive lineman Drew Dalman (left) and Jalen Mayfield (right) run block on a play during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

After the draft, Mayfield said his preference was to play tackle. But he’s now fine with the move.

“I’m doing whatever I’m asked to do,” Mayfield said. “I’m going to be do whatever the team needs.”

Mayfield believes he has what it takes to play along the offensive line in the NFL.

“You definitely (must) have mental toughness and physical toughness about you especially when you are playing on the offensive line,” Mayfield said. “All through football you are going to have to have mental toughness when times get tough, you have hunker down and depend on one another to do certain things to get the job done. I think that carries through the whole team, coaches on down.”

Mayfield is likely repeating what he’s heard from the coaching staff. The Falcons blew big leads and dropped eight games by one score last season. The 2020 team’s mental toughness and inability to close out games has been called into question.

Smith and his staff are apparently delivering some pretty impressive “mental toughness” sermons.

“If you have a mentally tough team and a physically tough team, you’re going to be really good whenever close games happen, or when big time moments come up,” Mayfield said. “I’m just focused on doing my part, making sure that I’m mentally and physically tough enough. Making sure that I understand our playbook and I know my assignments. Making sure that I’m prepared at all costs.”

Smith has made an early impression on Mayfield.

New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (center, red hat) gathers players for some instruction during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (center, red hat) gathers players for some instruction during rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“Coach Smith is a fiery guy,” Mayfield said. “He loves the game of football. He’s a very tough-minded person. I want to present the same thing that he presents to us. Tough, just like him. Be passionate about what you are doing and what you work for and having a mindset in order to grow.”

Ledford also is blending in well with the rookies.

“Coach Ledford is a very fun guy to be around,” Mayfield said. “He definitely knows when to be serious, but he also knows how to have fun.”

Ledford has reminded the offensive linemen to enjoy the game.

“He wants us to stay engaged with just playing football and to have fun with the game,” Mayfield said. “It is a job now, but you play this game because you love the game and you’re having fun with the game. He never wants us to forget that.”

Mayfield was projected by some draft analysts to go much higher in the draft, possibly late in the first round. However, he slipped to the third round.

“I was just praying that I heard my name,” Mayfield said. “I didn’t know where I was going or what time it was. I couldn’t really control that. I’m happy I’m here now and I’m able to do what I do best and that’s play football.”

Dalman, who was drafted in the fourth round (114th overall) out of Stanford, spent most of his time at center.

ExploreQ&A with rookie lineman Drew Dalman

“Yeah, that’s kind of the big thing is that we are all just offensive linemen at this point,” Dalman said. “We are working everything. We are doing everything to be ready.”

Dalman played in a pro-style offense at Stanford and that helped him get through the rookie minicamp.

“Just the concepts within the offensive line play, there is a lot of carry over,” Dalman said. “They may call it different things, but we are kind of talking about the same things. That’s definitely been helpful in learning. I can kind of translate it back to something that I’ve already learned.”

Heading into the Saturday practice, Smith was pleased with the class.

“It’s a solid class,” Smith said. “It’s a good thing organizationally when you bring guys in, you know what type player we’re looking for and now they are here. We have to bring them along the way the way we want things done, practice, you are starting from the ground up. Overall, it’s a solid rookie class that we think has a chance.”

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