Training camp preview: Key position battles upcoming on offensive line

Expect competition for a few starting spots along Falcons front

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Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield #77 looks on during organized team activities in Phase III of the Atlanta Falcons offseason program on June 4, 2021.

The Falcons have spent significant NFL Draft capital on the offensive front. Both tackles are first-round picks. So is the right guard. The presumptive starting center was a recent third-round pick. So is a rookie fighting a veteran for the left guard spot.

That's not atypical in the NFL, where protectors are prized as much as any position not throwing the football. That's why tackles get paid the big bucks, with interior lineman markets on the rise.

The Falcons would probably like a bit better return on investment. Matt Ryan got sacked 41 times last year, a league-high 48 the season before that. And while a good ground game takes all 11 working as one, the Falcons ranked second-to-last with 3.7 yards per carry. The offensive line takes some blame for that.

While the results haven't been grand, there's talent here. Right guard Chris Lindstrom's one of the NFL's best young linemen. Left tackle Jake Matthews has long been a stout pass protector. Right tackle Kaleb McGary has been at bit inconsistent but has potential for better.

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Those three seem set for the starting lineup. The rest of it will be hashed out in camp. Matt Hennessy seems a clear frontrunner to start at center, but nothing's set in stone who will take over after Alex Mack left in free agency. That's especially true considering this new regime selected center Drew Dalman in the fourth round.

The offseason program is winding down. Take a look at the best images of the offensive line and more in this gallery from Day 9 of OTAs.

Left guard's a position battle to watch this summer. Josh Andrews seems to be the early leader, but third-round rookie Jalen Mayfield might come hard for the starting spot. It will be interesting to see that play out this summer, with reporters certainly tracking first team reps for both heading into the regular season.

Matt Gono can play inside and out but could well end up the swing tackle. His health is a bit of a question mark following an ESPN report that he had surgery on an undisclosed injury.

The Falcons are a bit thin up front, especially if Gono misses significant time.

It will be up to new offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford to develop young talent and help bring the group together this summer. An improved running game is vital to 2021's success. Matt Ryan functions better without pressure (obviously) and with a balanced offense. Quality offensive line play could help achieve both aims.

The Falcons need both a cohesive starting five and some injury protection in a group that could run eight, more likely nine deep. The play up front will allow others to make highlights and churn out points.

This training camp is as important for this position group as any, considering the relative uncertainty at two spots and the vital role it plays in the team's overall success.

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