Perhaps the Falcons’ biggest offseason project is to figure out who will replace Chris Chester at right guard.
At the start of OTAs, the Falcons have been rotating several players at the position, but coach Dan Quinn declared the front-runners.
“The first two guys who will be battling for it will be Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland,” Quinn said Thursday. “They’ve had a fantastic offseason. We talk about guys who want to set it off, those two, not only have they set it off, their humility is such that they work out together, they work on things together. So when you see them in post-practice helping one another along, you can imagine as a coach, how that feels to see two guys who are battling for it, but are also helping one another.”
Chester elected to retire after 11 years in the NFL, including the past two with the Falcons.
Excluding center Alex Mack and left guard Andy Levitre, theoretically seven players will compete for the opening. Of the players on the 90-man roster, only Trevor Robinson has started NFL games.
Robinson, who played at Notre Dame, started seven games with Cincinnati (2012) and 14 with San Diego (2014-15) as a center. Cornelius Edison also signed.
The Falcons drafted Sean Harlow in the fourth round and signed former Auburn guard Robert Leff and centers Travis Averill and Cam Keizur as undrafted players.
The backup interior linemen must be functional at center, left guard and right guard.
Last season, Chester won a battle over Schweitzer, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. Garland played on offense and defense last season.
Mack expects the battle, which will be under the direction of offensive line coach Chris Morgan, to rage well into training camp.
“We have a lot of guys who work really hard,” Mack said. “In OTAs, we’ll get a lot of reps in there. In training camp, we’ll start to narrow it down.”
Schweitzer is considered the early favorite.
“He’s a big powerful guy,” Mack said. “He’s been hitting it pretty hard in the weight room. He’s done a real good job of working hard every day.”
Harlow, who was a tackle in college at Oregon State, is making the conversion to guard and could be a future starter in the league.
“From the rookie class, we’ll let that play itself out,” Quinn said. “But Harlow has received some time at both of the guard spots as well.”
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