Fusco taking charge at right guard spot

Quinn not ready to name him the starter over Schweitzer

While Falcons coach Dan Quinn is not ready to declare a winner in the battle for the starting right guard spot, offseason free-agent pickup Brandon Fusco appears to have the upper hand.

Fusco will make his second consecutive start over incumbent Wes Schweitzer in the Falcons important third exhibition game against Jacksonville at 7 p.m. Saturday at TIAA Bank Stadium.

“Fusco will stay at the right guard spot to start this game,” Quinn said on Sunday. “He played well in the two performances so far. His snaps were limited so to speak, but he’s answered a number of the questions that we wanted to see. But by no stretch am I saying that Wes hasn’t, but Brandon has earned the right to do that again, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Quinn was asked to clarify if he was naming Fusco the starter.

“I’ll be ready next week,” Quinn said. “But he’s earned the right to take more of the first-team snaps for sure.”

The Falcons signed Fusco to a three-year, $12.75 million contract in the offseason. He started all 16 games with the 49ers last season.

Since coming into the league as a sixth-round draft pick from Slippery Rock, Fusco has had to earn his way as a battler at either right guard or left guard. He played for the Vikings from 2011-16 and has played in 83 NFL games with 80 starts.

Despite his clear experience advantage over Schweitzer, who started all 18 games last season, the Falcons didn’t want to hand Fusco the job. Fusco and Schweitzer have been rotating for most of training camp.

“We’ve asked him to really compete and go for it,” Quinn said. “To Wes’ credit, he hasn’t let up a bit.”

With Fusco, 30, and starting left guard Andy Levitre, 32, the Falcons are not ready to give up on Schweitzer, a sixth-round pick in 2016, who’s just 24.

“Wes has certainly improved as a player from last year and not just by a little bit,” Quinn said. “He went for it in a way where he was going to keep clawing and scratching to go. As we are going through it, Brandon will take the majority of the first-team reps this week.”

With Fusco in the lineup early for 14 plays, the Falcons running game took off. Tevin Coleman popped two 15-yard gains and finished with 35 yards on five carries.

“What I saw from Fusco was (that he was) really square,” Quinn said. “Really consistent both in the run game and the pass game. He had a couple of good finish blocks.”

The Falcons put an emphasis on completing their blocks.

“That is one that we term did you finish that player,” Quinn said. “We call them just finishes. When we grade players we are looking at what production they have, pluses, minuses, was there any fouls, how many finishes did he have, it’s important to us in the run game and the pass game.”

Fusco graded out well.

“Brandon did a real fine job in this game in that area,” Quinn said. “He played a clean game and had good finishes. Wes did as well. ... He certainly responded in the right way.”

Fusco was pleased with hit outing, too.

“Every since I’ve been here the big emphasis has been on running the ball, wearing opponents out and setting up for the big plays with play-action,” Fusco said. “That’s what we are all about. It’s really important for us to get that run game going, opening those holes up to set everything else up. That’s how this offense works.”

Schweitzer spent the offseason working out with eight other of the offensive linemen.

“I’ve been doing this, every offseason I just stay here the whole time, but this was the first time that we had that many people,” Schweitzer said. “Usually it’s only been about two or three people the last two years.”

Quinn credited Schweitzer for getting the group together.

“I didn’t have any people staying at my house, but some people stayed at Sean Harlow’s house,” Schweitzer said. “We all came in together. We trained at the same time.

“We took the rookies through the program. Trained together. Did drills together. Watched film together as we tried to get them acclimated and give them a head start. I think it helped a lot.”

Schweitzer has been pleased with his work this training camp.

“I’ve had a great camp and great (exhibition) season games so far,” Schweitzer said. “I’m just going to try to keep getting better every day. I’m taking it one play at time, working hard every day.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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