Learning an NFL playbook can be a difficult, time-consuming task. Learning one in less than two weeks is a particularly arduous endeavor.
This is where Andy Levitre finds himself now. The veteran offensive lineman, acquired by Atlanta on Sept. 4 in a trade with Tennessee, has been thrust into a starting spot at left guard by head coach Dan Quinn. Since he joined the team following its exhibition finale, he'll have to make his Falcons debut under the bright lights of Monday Night Football on Sept. 14.
Not exactly ideal circumstances. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe Levitre can make a smooth adjustment to his new home.
He's healthy, for one. The 29-year-old battled nagging injuries over the past couple seasons, but those wounds are no longer plaguing him. It's worth noting that, despite bumps and bruises, he's yet to miss a regular season contest in his six-year NFL career. Health has been an issue for Falcons O-linemen, and having a durable force inside is more than just a luxury. It might be a necessity.
And, though he and the Titans had a rough 2014, Levitre owns a solid track record. The two-time All-Conference tackle at Oregon State was among the NFL's best offensive linemen from 2011-13, when he earned the fifth-, eighth- and 13th-best Pro Football Focus grades among qualifying guards. The tape lines up with those numbers: He was nothing if not consistent during that three-year stretch.
QB Matt Ryan, LB Paul Worrilow and WR Eric Weems will represent as team captains for the 2015 season.
Perhaps most importantly, he has the kind of experience Atlanta desires. Levitre studied the zone blocking scheme with the Bills, one akin to Kyle Shanahan's version of the popular method. This has undoubtedly helped him grow accustomed to his new surroundings at Flowery Branch.
"It's similar," Levitre said of Atlanta's offense and the one from Buffalo. "There's a lot of carryover, but there's also some differences—different techniques and things you might see that are different between different staffs and how the way the offense is structured. So it just kind of depends what play is called.
"I've already learned a lot the first few days I've been here, so just trying to fine tune these things and make sure I have a complete understanding of everything going into the game."
Levitre's frame and skill set makes him a logical fit in Shanahan's system. At 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, he has a nice build for the ZBS; he's agile, too, a necessary trait when moving laterally.
Dan Quinn sees these traits in his new guard and believes the former fourth-round pick can contribute immediately.
"I think it's just really the initial quickness off the ball," Quinn said when asked what he likes about Levitre. "At this guard position, the way we try to feature those guys, that initial quickness—both on the wide zone (and other plays)—and he's really strong in terms of protection."
Indeed, Levitre's a fit—on paper. Whether or not he works out in Atlanta remains to be seen.
To succeed with the Falcons, he'll need to develop lasting chemistry with his fellow linemen. This is crucial in any offense; in Shanahan's, which will hinge on the OL's ability to work in unison, it's uniquely imperative.
"We're around each other a lot. I've already been around these guys a bunch in the last two days," Levitre said. "So it's just kind of developing relationships in the meeting rooms, the locker room and carrying it on the field."
Levitre and Co. will surely be tested in Week 1 by Philadelphia's stout, athletic front seven. With a revamped defense and a wealth of skill position players in tow, Atlanta's success on opening night—and throughout 2015—may well depend on the performance of its OL. If Levitre lives up to his potential, adding him will go a long way towards shoring up this uncertain area.