Roster Review: Guard

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What the tall guys on the outside of the offensive line do for the quarterback, the beefy linemen on the inside do for the running back.

Guards on the interior open up lanes for the running back and help him gain accolades; such was the case for Devonta Freeman and his Pro Bowl season in 2008.

Atlanta returns both its starters at guard, Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock for the 2010. Last season saw an injury to Dahl that caused him to miss six games at the end of the season with an ankle injury and his absence hurt the Falcons running game, dropping from second in the league in '08 to 15th.

Rotational members Quinn Ojinnaka and Brett Romberg will begin training camp with the Falcons. The franchise added Mike Johnson in the third round of this year's draft and last season's practice squad member, Jose Valdez, is back with the team.

Atlanta hopes the depth at guard is more capable of handling an injury to a starter in this upcoming season and AtlantaFalcons.com takes a look at those players:

Harvey Dahl 6th season

Who:A player with a notorious on-field attitude is what Dahl brings to the Falcons. Named one of the meanest players in the NFL last season, Dahl's predilection for playing past the whistle is perfect for the run-first offense of the Falcons.

Why:A nasty player at a position that needs a lot of nasty. Dahl became a force on the line in '08 and played well last season until the ankle slowed him. When healthy, the 6'5", 305-pound lineman is one of the more underrated guards in the NFL.

How:Dahl enters camp as the starter, but will need to show no lingering issues with the ankle. A return to early-'09 and '08 form for Dahl will mean he's the starter and the line play gets a lot better.

Justin Blalock 4th season

Who:A second-round draft choice in 2007, the 6'4", 329-pound Blalock started 14 games as a rookie and has started every game in the past two seasons.

Why:Durable though not always spectacular on the left side of center, he's a better pass blocker than he's given credit for.

How:With three years of starting experience Blalock's job is his to lose. He'll need to continue to show the Falcons coaching staff that he can be aggressive enough in run blocking to hold his own.

Jose Valdez 2nd season

Who:After being signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2009 draft, Valdez earned his way onto the practice squad where he spent the entire '09 campaign. Playing predominately as a tackle during his college career at Arkansas, Valdez' run blocking make him a better guard prospect at the NFL level.

Why:With a year in the system, Valdez may be a dark horse to earn a rotational guard role this season. He possesses excellent size which provides him the leverage inside to block large defensive tackles.

How:Valdez will need to impress to beat out some of the veterans competing for spots on the line during training camp. He'll need to show that his year on the PS served him well in learning the blocking schemes. He'll also need to stay tough during the inside battles against linemen. With some improved athleticism, Valdez can come out of camp on the 53-man roster.

Mike Johnson Rookie

Who:The third-round draft pick from Alabama is one of the more decorated draft picks of the 2010 class. A member of the 2009 National Championship team, Johnson holds the record for most appearances in school history with 54. He blocked for Heisman Trophy winning running Mark Ingram while earning First-Team All American honors last season.

Why:His draft status means he's a likely pick for the roster, but Johnson will have to earn everything he gets. His stellar college career, his mean streak, his physical play, and football IQ are all traits highly desired by the Falcons coaching staff.

How:He'll need to show he can adapt to the speed of the NFL quickly. Atlanta will be relying on him to provide valuable depth with an eye toward eventually starting and picking up the blocking schemes quickly. If Johnson can translate glimmers of his college career to the professional level he'll be in good shape as a rookie.

Brett Romberg 9th season

Who:Romberg joined the Falcons in March of 2009 and appeared in nine games last season at guard and center. As a member of the Rams in 2007, he started nine games.

Why:Romberg's experience and versatility make him a valuable member of the offensive line. 1/3rd of his snaps last season came at center, with the rest at right guard.

How:The 6'2", 298-pound lineman must show he's capable of being a versatile piece of the line again in 2010. At 30 he'll need to be able to show that he can keep up with some of the younger guards he's competing with while being a good mentor to them at the same time.

Quinn Ojinnaka 5th season

Who:A 2006 fifth-round draft pick, Ojinnaka is often listed as a tackle, but most of his snaps came last season at right guard. With injured starter Harvey Dahl out, the 6'5", 305-pound guard started the final five games of the season.

Why:Ojinnaka's played in 39 games over his career, including 12 starts so his experience is valuable. His time at tackle and guard fit with Atlanta's cross-training approach and the depth he provides because of that is helpful, as it proved to be last season.

How:The one-game suspension he'll serve to begin the season won't play a major factor in Ojinnaka making the 2010 roster. The 26-year old will maintain his spot on the team if he can continue to show improvement in his run blocking and hold off charges from Johnson and Valdez.

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