FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There's a specific question about this Falcons offense that has been on simmer throughout much of the offseason and training camp. It had to do with offensive line depth. Did the Falcons have it, particularly at tackle?
It's a question you hope stays at the back of the stove, one you hope you don't have to move to the front burners. That's not how the league works, though. Injuries unfortunately happen, especially at the line of scrimmage, where physicality and contact are the reality every play.
It's likely a question, too, Falcons decision-makers still had a couple weeks into the 2023 regular season. It was one they decided to address at the end of September, signing offensive lineman Storm Norton to the active 53-man roster off the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Fast forward 12 days and that depth was tested.
Looking back, it's safe to say that depth held up.
Halfway through Sunday's 21-19 win over the Houston Texans, Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary left the game with a knee injury. Norton stepped in.
Playing the remaining 41 offensive snaps of the game, Norton and the rest of the Falcons offensive line held firm even in the shift of personnel. Quarterback Desmond Ridder was never sacked on Sunday and he finished the day with his best passing performance to date. That doesn't happen if protection isn't there. Norton was a key part of that protection.
Head coach Arthur Smith compared the backup swing tackle role to that of a backup quarterback. It's a position of great importance on game days, he said, because there is no rotating that position like others. Offensive linemen (and the quarterback) play every offensive snap. So, whenever a new person comes in, it's usually because of injury and they're cold. To be able to turn it on quickly is a skill the backups of these positions need to exhibit.
"You just never know. It takes one play. Whether it's the first play, or hell, it could be the second-to-last play and you could be in a two-minute drive, and you have to come out there cold and get the job done. I thought Storm did," Smith said. "That's the thing. He was really to roll. He went in there and (I) didn't feel like you had to call the game around him. Sometimes you feel like you have to protect certain things. I thought he did a really nice job."
It's the last point Smith made that's the most important. He didn't feel like he had to change the calls he was making in-game based on the fact that Norton was in and not McGary.
That, Ridder said, speaks to how this offensive line works, and how quickly Norton assimilated into the Falcons scheme.
"That's huge, and that's for everyone — no matter what position, comes in being able to make a seamless transition, to not have to alter your game any on offense, defense, or special teams," Ridder said. "Just being able to go out there, that's a testament to not only his hard work but all the guys in that offensive line room, keeping all those guys in tune, in sync. No matter whether you come up from practice squad or whatever, that you have to know the game plan inside and out."
Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone added: "You have a veteran guy who comes in, who has experience, but who comes in from Day 1 and just worked."
Ultimately, the transition from McGary to Norton was what Ridder said you hope it is: seamless.
And that's exactly what you want.
Moving forward, McGary's knee injury is one the Falcons are working through in the short term. Smith said after Texas win that McGary was on the stationary bike on the sideline in the final quarters of the win. That was a good sign, the head coach said. McGary was a limited participant in Wednesday's practice, another good sign.
The Falcons are planning to take McGary all the way through the week, seeing how he feels towards the week's end, before making a decision about his game-day status against the Commanders this Sunday. The door is still open to see McGary slot back into his starting role on this Falcons offensive line. However, if he can't go, if that knee injury lingers a little longer, there isn't much concern about Norton filling in.
And, again, that's exactly what you want.
"We say it. We believe it. If you have a helmet on Sunday, there's a certain standard in which we believe we need to play at," Ragone said. "… Players (who) come in and there's no blink."
Call for questions
Let's re-fill the mailbag by submitting questions right here for inclusion in Friday's Bair Mail.
Take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans during Week 5.