Editor's note: This is No. 5 in a series detailing each position group on the Falcons' 90-man roster.
FALCONS ROSTER PREVIEWS
After making a handful of moves to retool their offensive line last offseason, the Falcons stood relatively pat at the position this year. Atlanta is banking on improvement from last year's first-round picks, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, as well as the addition of Matt Hennessy, who figures to be a key figure in the left guard competition. One thing remains true; the performance of the offensive line will be important for the team's overall success in 2020.
2019 returning production
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2019 incoming production
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Here are 4 things to know about the Falcons' offensive line heading into 2020:
1. Can Lindstrom and McGary take a step forward?
Perhaps the most important thing for Atlanta's offensive line next season is just how big of a leap Lindstrom and McGary can make. Lindstrom missed 11 games as a rookie due to a foot injury, but he showed a lot of promise in the five games he did play. Touted as a very polished prospect coming out of college, Lindstrom was certainly missed while out of the lineup last year. Having him for a full 16 games would probably, in itself, give the line a boost.
McGary did start all 16 games as a rookie, which was undoubtedly important for his development. He notably improved during the second half of the season, especially in pass protection. As the Falcons seek to include more outside zone runs in their offense next season, the ability of Lindstrom and McGary to lock down the right edge and protect Matt Ryan in the passing game will be vital.
2. Hennessy is the player to watch in camp
Although he played center in college, third-round draft pick Matt Hennessy will compete for the left guard spot in camp. He's a player who shows a lot of similar traits to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, displaying a high level of athleticism and ability to make blocks while on the move. In fact, Hennessy studied film of Mack while playing at Temple, and he will have the opportunity to learn directly from the veteran center in Atlanta.
The Falcons shuffled a few players at the guard spots in 2019, so having Hennessy emerge as the clear starter this offseason would be a big boost. Continuity on the offensive line is something Atlanta has been lacking, but with three draft picks at the position the last two years, that could change. Of course, it all starts with Hennessy winning that battle in camp.
3. The Falcons should have the depth they've been seeking
Atlanta has quietly built up its depth on the offensive line the last two offseasons. Although James Carpenter and Jamon Brown started over half the games for the Falcons last season, they are probably best suited as veteran backups right now. That's the role they will likely have if Hennessy does claim the other starting guard spot opposite Lindstrom. Matt Gono is another player who adds depth at both guard and tackle, as does Justin McCray, who the Falcons added this offseason. Sean Harlow is back to give Atlanta depth at all three interior spots, but he'll likely stay further down the depth chart. As will John Wetzel, who can operate as a swing tackle.
The Falcons also added four college free agent tackles to their roster, but young linemen usually take a year or two to develop into a player capable of making an impact. Still, don't be surprised if one or two can grab a spot on the practice squad.
4. What does the future hold for Mack?
Mack, a six-time Pro Bowler, is entering the final year of his contract with the Falcons. It's unclear right now what the future holds for the 34-year-old center, and he recently said he's "taking it year by year" at this point in his career. During that same interview, however, he also stated he had "a lot of juice in the tank," so it's feasible that Mack does decide to continue to play after the 2020 season. Mack has made three Pro Bowls while never missing a start for Atlanta, and he continues to be a crucial part of the offense.