The Elephant in the Room …or Lack Thereof

0
200

 

At this year’s training camp, all eyes will be on Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland as they battle it out for the starting right guard position. The Falcons were fortunate enough to start the same offensive line through all 19 games last season, a rarity that was not lost on starting center Alex Mack. “It’s not common (to have the same starters all season),” Mack said. “Having consistency on the line helps you be successful week in and week out.” And now that consistency is no longer there…

The Falcons now need to find a replacement for veteran guard Chris Chester who elected to retire from the NFL in the offseason. He started at right guard for 32 regular-season games for the Falcons over the last two seasons, along with three playoff games during last year’s run to the Super Bowl. However, even if Chester had returned he may not have been guaranteed the starting job, not with Wes Schweitzer in the mix. Which could end up being a good sign for the Falcons (although experienced depth never hurts).

Coach Dan Quinn has expressed confidence in returning players Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland. Schweitzer, a sixth-round draft pick last season, was inactive for every game of his rookie campaign. Garland is listed as a backup center but showed his versatility and intensity by playing on the defensive line at tackle last season. The importance of these guys stepping up and filling the void was further compounded when Trevor Robinson and Hugh Thornton decided to retire in the offseason. At this point, most of the 90-man rosters have been filled with players for training camp, leaving no highly touted prospects available on the market. Except for former New York center Nick Mangold, released over the offseason, who has played in 164 games and is a seven-time Pro Bowler.

The competition between Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland is considered a toss-up heading into camp. Schweitzer tried to make the switch from college left tackle to guard last season but never made it on the field.  “We are excited about where Wes is headed,” Quinn said over the offseason. Offensive line coach Chris Morgan also liked how the linemen worked over the offseason. “The guys all came back with an unbelievable mindset,” Morgan said. “They were really going after it. Everybody is focused. The competition is really cool.” In all honesty though, there isn’t much to evaluate until the linemen put on the pads, do some live blocking in training camp, and face some real competition in the exhibition games. With so much of last year’s success being a result of a high-powered offense, and the importance of the offensive line to that unit, can the Falcons maintain the same level of productivity again this season? Will there be enough depth or experience on this line, especially at the right guard position, to withstand another Super Bowl run?

 

The Falcons signed Cornelius Edison, who played in six games with Chicago, and signed undrafted centers Travis Averill and Cam Keizur. They also signed guard Marquis Lucas, who has spent time with Buffalo and Minnesota over the past few seasons. The Falcons drafted Sean Harlow in the fourth round of the 2017 draft and are converting him to guard after playing tackle at Oregon State.

 

Projected Depth Chart at Left Guard, Center, and Right Guard:

  • LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 72 Cornelius Edison
  • C   51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur
  • RG 71Wes Schweitzer, 63 OR Ben Garland, 61), 69 Marquis Lucas

 

By: Michael Morency