Camp Battles 2011: Offensive Line
Like the running back position, this unit could be heavily influenced by free agency. The Falcons will have to make important decisions on three of their starters: Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, and Justin Blalock.
Clabo is likely to be a high priority for the team to retain. And if they do so, it will go a long way to solidify their front line and maintain some continuity. It remains to be seen whether the Falcons will prefer to keep either Dahl or Blalock, although it seems likely at least one will remain. Dahl is probably the safer bet since he appears to be a favorite of position coach Paul Boudreau.
Ideally, the Falcons will be able to keep all three players. If they are successful in achieving that goal, then competition during camp at this position won’t be particularly compelling. The most interesting battle will likely then be between Jose Valdez and Will Svitek for the swing tackle position. Valdez’s practice squad eligibility is likely to expire this season, so if the Falcons want to continue to develop him, they will probably need to do so by giving him a regular roster spot.
However, if even one of those free agents depart, it will make things a lot more interesting. If all three depart, it’s likely to be a free-for-all.
The most likely candidate to replace Blalock at left guard is Mike Johnson. He got the majority of reps there last summer, and he’d be the front runner. Johnson didn’t have a great summer a year ago, but the team was high on him when they drafted him in the third round and will give him every opportunity to win the vacant position.
His most likely competition will come in the form of Garrett Reynolds, who is also the primary reserve at right guard behind Dahl. Reynolds also adds the value of playing right tackle as well, although his primary position in inside. His chances of earning a starting job will increase if Dahl is the one that departs, although Johnson would probably be the top candidate there as well for reasons mentioned previously.
If Clabo isn’t kept, then Svitek is likely to be the front runner to replace him and he’ll be pushed by both Reynolds and Valdez. Svitek is the more known commodity and proven run blocker, making him a good fit at right tackle. Valdez is an intriguing dark horse, showcasing his superior athleticism last summer.
Left tackle Sam Baker is unlikely to be pushed in camp, as the Falcons will likely want to retain as much continuity as possible. The same goes for veteran center Todd McClure. Second-year pro Joe Hawley is his heir apparent. Hawley also garnered reps at guard last season, but probably won’t be a serious contender to become a starter there unless Johnson and/or Reynolds struggle.
The Falcons drafted Andrew Jackson to bolster depth and competition. But he’ll be hard-pressed to make his way into the likely to be nine roster spots unless at least two of the Falcons free agents depart. He is most likely to be competing for a practice squad spot, although a solid summer may convince the team to keep ten blockers instead of the typical nine.
Also on the roster is Rob Bruggeman, although he remains a long shot unless there is an injury to one of the centers. The Falcons probably will sign a few undrafted or street free agents to fill out the roster here, with all just being camp bodies competing for a chance to make the practice squad.