Falcons offensive tackle Kaleb McGary loosens up for the second practice at training camp on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Kaleb McGary climbing the ladder of learning for Falcons

And the right tackle’s learning curve is being drawn in more places than games. He’s growing in practices and meeting games.

The second of the Falcons’ two first-round draft picks – both offensive lineman – has started every game so far, although he’s missed some game time with a sprained knee after missing much of training camp and the preseason in the wake of a heart procedure to regulate his heartbeat.

He’s come a long way, from the University of Washington, and the big guy is being asked to do many things differently than he did them before. 

Yes, McGary feels better about all of his assignments even though he missed roughly a month of work in the summer at the time when the most learning goes on in the NFL, but he’s no finished product.

“I’m a lot more comfortable in the offense. A lot of this transition for me has been the plays and assignments, calls, and in (the spring, shortly after being drafted), it was kind of scary,” he said. “There was a lot. As a rookie coming in, you don’t know anything and everybody else does because they’ve been here. 

“It was a challenge at first, and it still is. I wouldn’t say I’m completely comfortable. I mess up lots of things. But I’d certainly say it’s gotten a lot better, and I’m more and more comfortable.”

At first glance, one might think that McGary’s assignment this week is sticky. He’s surely going to be matched against Seattle defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. The reality is that even though the Seahawks have a 5-2 record, their pass rush has been soft. They rank 26th in the NFL with 11 sacks, not that that is the only metric by which one may measure the thrust of a rush.

Protocol has changed for McGary in his transition to being a professional.

At Washington, offensive linemen when dropping in pass protection were more often asked to “catch” rushers. Falcons offensive line Chris Morgan wants his blockers to punch, to extend their arms so as to deflect invaders more than absorb them.

It’s going so-so, but McGary keeps asking questions while he tries to grow.

Not surprisingly, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter suggested that the right tackle can improve by getting his hands into rushers’ pads and/or chest faster.

Morgan won’t argue.

“He’s focused on it, being faster with his hands, being firmer at the line of scrimmage. He’s got a plan. He’s focused on it,” Morgan said. “You drill it. You make a point of emphasis on it. You shine a light on it. You do it in practice (and) ask a guy on defense to give you a look every day in practice.”

McGary has been checking the boxes in the effort area. In addition to barely missing time with that sprained knee, he’s shown that he’s more than willing to wrestle with whomever is in front of him.

“What I love about him is that he is all-day tough - heart procedure, knee injury, and he did not miss any snaps (he did miss some, though not any games),” coach Dan Quinn said. “That is really what you look for in that position due to the toughness of that. You are going to have tough moments, but you want to look at how players respond. 

“Due to the injuries that he has had, he has already had to respond to some adversity.”

In the end, McGary is trying not to over-think.

Sure, there are changes in what he’s being asked to do vs. what he was asked to do in college, but he just wants to get better. He’s not over-worried about facing Clowney or anyone else. He just wants to win against whichever player he faces and whatever team is on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

McGary at times can be a man of great simplification. 

“It’s different, but at the end of the day all O-line is the same: Move this guy to there or keep him from getting over there. Just different way of doing the same thing,” he said. “I guess that depends on the way you look at it. 

“There’s different kinds of pass sets and run blocking. What one set maybe considers aggressive, maybe another doesn’t. I would say in college there was a different emphasis on different things. I’m watching film on everybody.”

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