Camp Battles: Offensive Line

Barring some unforseen injury, it’s doubtful the Falcons five starters will change from last year. Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, and Tyson Clabo are all set to open the season as the team’s starting five, and something significant would need to happen in order to change that.

The battles here will come for who will sit the bench. Most NFL teams keep a rotation of eight linemen, but usually keep a ninth guy for emergency purposes, meaning that there are probably four open spots on the roster for competition.

The three players that are likely best suited to land three of those spots are Jeremy Newberry, Brett Romberg, and Garrett Reynolds. Newberry is highly experienced and Romberg is a favorite of Paul Boudreau as he played under him in both Jacksonville and St. Louis. Reynolds is the team’s fifth round draft pick and expected to compete for the utility backup position. While the team counts Baker as healthy for the time being, his injuries the past two seasons mean there is some concern over whether he can stay healthy for 16 games, meaning the need for a guy that can fill in at left tackle (and preferably right tackle as well) is key this summer. Last year, the job was filled by Todd Weiner.

Reynolds draft status insulates him somewhat to possibly landing that job. If he does not get that gig, then the most likely option for the fourth reserve is the guy that does win that role. And most likely that will be either Quinn Ojinnaka or Will Svitek. The team likes Ojinnaka’s versatility as they feel he can play all five line spots, but with having players like Newberry and Romberg on the roster, that doesn’t carry as much weight now as it did in the past.

Also in the mix are Ben Wilkerson, who was the top backup to McClure last year, along with Mike Butterworth, Ryan Stanchek, and Jose Valdez. In all likelihood all three of the latter are longshots to make the roster, and instead will hope to impress enough to land on the practice squad. Wilkerson will be hard-pressed to win a job since the team brought in both Romberg and Newberry, implying that aren’t overly impressed with Wilkerson’s ability to provide depth.

This is one of the few positions on offense that you could potentially see the team still looking to address at the end of camp. If either Reynolds, Ojinnaka, or Svitek has filled the team’s confidence on their ability to fill in as a reserve tackle, you may see the team try to target a veteran on the waiver wire.

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Aaron Freeman
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