Life in the NFL can be chaotic. Unless you're an established star, you're never really comfortable and you know a challenge is coming from the depth chart below you at all times. Those same challengers experience the unexpected as well and sometimes they find themselves in the middle of a position-battle hotspot they didn't anticipate.
That's the case with Ryan Schraeder, an offensive tackle that joined the Falcons in the offseason as an undrafted free agent from Valdosta State. When this week began it was about preparing for the Bengals game on Thursday, the preseason opener, but it became something different for Schraeder. An injury to Mike Johnson at right tackle has turned a competition into a free-for-all battle that will go to the player that can truly win the job, and Schraeder has a chance to do just that.
Originally Schraeder was getting a look at left tackle, the position he played most in college, but after Johnson's injury, he's been thrown into the right tackle battle with second-year tackle Lamar Holmes. Although Schraeder joined the team not knowing what to expect as a college free agent, he's now trying to make the most of every opportunity he can to make the team and be a valuable asset.
"We're all up for the challenge — that's why we play this game," he said after Thursday's game. "Injuries happen and guys have to step up. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to do to make myself the best I can be to help out the team."
After Johnson's injury, Schraeder started taking reps at right tackle in addition to the left side. In Thursday's game he played 34 snaps, the third-highest number on offense. He spent time on both sides and is trying to show he's capable of winning the right tackle job outright or being the primary swing tackle that can man both sides of the line. Although it's been a while since he's played the right side, he's working to get comfortable quickly.
"My redshirt year I played right tackle, but I haven't played since then," he said. "You get pretty comfortable when you're at a spot for several years. It's just about getting used to it on the right side. That's something I'll work at. It's a challenge that I'm up for."
Like most players with his experience level playing in their first preseason game, the results on the field were mixed, but Schraeder was getting plenty of reps with the second string offense, not bad for a guy that wasn't drafted this year.
"I feel like I did pretty good," Schraeder said of his performance on Thursday. "I had a few mistakes here and there. Everything is fixable. You never know until you watch the film, but overall I think I did pretty good. I'll watch the film and see what we've got to do to do better."
Schraeder is among three college free agents the Falcons brought in this offseason at offensive tackle that measure 6-foot-7 and weigh more than 300 pounds. Falcons head coach Mike Smith has said recently the three young linemen are players they're very interested in and now bringing in those three looks like a smart move because they're currently supplying much of the depth at tackle on the offensive line.