Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a 10-part position-by-position breakdown of the Falcons’ roster heading into training camp. Today: Offensive line
Over the offseason, the Falcons spent $80.3 million to rebuild the offensive line.
A total of $51.7 million of the $80.3 million was guaranteed.
The Falcons’ offensive line gave up 108 quarterback hits and 42 sacks after guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco were lost to injury and right tackle Ryan Schraeder’s play slipped dramatically.
The Falcons were determined to get better protection for quarterback Matt Ryan after making a $150 million investment in their signal-caller.
The battles along the offensive line will be fierce when training camp opens.
The Falcons’ two first-round picks, guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary, are set to report with the rookies Thursday. The veterans report July 21, with the first practice set for July 22.
The Falcons will have eight practices open to the public, including one at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and will open the exhibition season against the Broncos in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 1 in Canton, Ohio.
“With the addition of the two free agents Jamon (Brown) and James (Carpenter), that’s been what I’d hoped it would be,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They had good offseasons.
“Then the addition of the draft picks of Chris and Kaleb, their learning has gone fast. They’ve fast-tracked it. They’ll be ready to compete right from the get-go.”
The Falcons wanted to get bigger along the offensive line and also have some quality depth. The Falcons also re-signed Ty Sambrailo, who finished last season as the starting right tackle.
“I would say, those seven guys, Ty, Kaleb, Jake (Matthews), Alex (Mack), the four guards I listed and Wes (Schweitzer), about eight or nine guys are really in the forefront of it,” Quinn said.
Also, the Falcons are developing Matt Gono, who made the team last season as a undrafted player.
“Gono has been somebody that’s had a good offseason,” Quinn said. “We’ve played him at two spots, guard and tackle. Last year he wasn’t ready for that and now he is.”
Evaluating the offensive linemen is tricky because there is very little contact and a limited number of padded practices. The Falcons are elated that they have five exhibition games this season.
The plan is to let the offensive linemen battle it out.
“That group has very good competitiveness to it,” Quinn said. “I like the size. I like their movement. I’m hopeful that we’ve recaptured the essence of what we are looking for in that position.”
It’s practically certain that someone making a lot of money will be sitting on the bench.
“We are not worried about it,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We are not worried about offending anyone. We are not worried about having invested money in certain areas.
“We are 100 percent going to do what we thought was best for the team. We had to make sure that we had not only the starters in mind, but make sure that we had depth.”
Offensive line coach Chris Morgan, who’s in his fifth season with the team, and assistant offensive line coach Bob Kronenberg will oversee this major project.
The Falcons believe they have two keepers in Lindstrom and McGary.
“The draft is a process,” said Morgan, who was named the offensive line coach of the year by analytics website Pro Football Focus after the 2015 season. “We start as coaches after our season. We are not looking at kids for the year before.
“Our scouting department has a huge head-start because that’s all that do. Us, as coaches, we start looking a game tape. We grade a certain amount of games on the kid. Just, right away, you can see (Lindstrom’s) style of play come out. His production and his urgency.”
The process moved to the NFL scouting combine.
“You get to meet him,” Morgan said. “You get to see how mentally quick he is. You get to see what type of kid he is.”
Also, the Senior Bowl was in the mix. Both Lindstrom and McGary played in the All-Star game in Mobile, Ala.
“You can actually watch these guys on the field and see how they work, how they learn and how they compete,” Morgan said. “The more you get to know the kid during the process you know it’s cool to see that he’s made of the right stuff.”
There was a common trait that Morgan was looking for in the young linemen.
“The urgency of both them,” Morgan said. “The ‘want to’ of both of them. They’re both smart and athletic kids. They are here to compete. It’s exciting. It’s cool to see.”
Carpenter, a former first-round pick, has played in 103 games and has made 97 starts.
Brown has played with 50 games with 38 starts, but is now with his third team after stints with the Rams (2015-18) and Giants (2018).
“These guys have done an unbelievable job so far of getting here and jumping right in with how we do things,” Morgan said.
Carpenter is intriguing because he reportedly struggled in the outside zone blocking scheme early in his career.
“I know James,” Morgan said. “I had James in 2014 in Seattle. He’s really matured. Jamon has experience in this league. They’ve played a lot of football. They’ve played a lot of football running the outside zone, too.”
Morgan is not ready to declare the rookies as starters for the season opener.
“There’s always pressure for everybody, but we don’t talk about it like that,” Morgan said. “They’ll just go this day and try to put it all into today. Then come back and do the same thing tomorrow.”
No rookie has opened the season as starter on the Falcons’ offensive line since Jake Matthews in 2014.
Matthews will play a role in helping Lindstrom and McGary.
“Man, that rookie year, I feel like I’m a completely different person,” Matthews said. “Rookie year is such a blur. You don’t really know what you are getting into. By the time that you think you are starting to figure it out, you go, ‘oh man, the season is over.’”
Center Alex Mack was not ready to heap too much praise on the rookies.
“We need to see the pads on first,” Mack said. “They’ve got the right attitude. They are ready to work and eager to learn. That is one of the most important things you can have.”
Offensive line depth chart: LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono, 75 John Wetzel, 69 Lanard Bonner, 65 Jaelin Robinson
LG 77 James Carpenter, 60 Adam Gettis, 73 Matt Gono
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer 61 Chandler Miller
RG 68 Jamon Brown, 63 Chris Lindstrom, 64 Sean Harlow
RT 74 Ty Sambrailo, 76 Kaleb McGary, 67 Devon Johnson
Who’s returning: Matthews, Gono, Mack, Schweitzer, Harlow, and Sambrailo.
Who’s gone: Andy Levitre, Ryan Schraeder, Brandon Fusco, Ben Garland and Zane Beadles.
Levitre elected to retire after a solid career that included 143 starts and a trip to Super Bowl LI. How Schraeder slid so quickly remains a mystery.
Roster competitions: Carpenter appears set at left guard. Lindstrom and McGary have to beat out Brown and Sambrailo. Gono worked some at guard this offseason and could battle Schweitzer for a backup guard spot.
Miller could battle Schweitzer for the backup center position.
Position-by-position series: July 8: Special teams | July 9: Safeties | July 10: Cornerbacks | July 11: Linebackers | July 12: Defensive line | July 13: Quarterbacks |July 14: Offensive line | July 15: Wide receivers | July 16: Tight ends | July 17: Running backs
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.