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Training camp storylines: Finding right mix vital along both lines

Key position battles will be waged on offensive line, at left guard, center and right tackle; interior defensive must do better with same core group

The Falcons will start training camp with far more questions than answers. That's what will, as my guy Steve Wyche points out, make this as intriguing a training camp as any in the league.

The Falcons have true competition for starting and rotational roles across the depth chart.


But, as always, the most important storyline starts right up front. You can't do much if you can't win at the line of scrimmage. And, too often last year, the Falcons got pushed in the wrong direction.

That has to change for an intriguing set of skill players and defensive backs to do their thing.

That's why, in my opinion, that's the most important thing to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses.

That's especially true along the offensive line, where we will see position battles waged at right tackle, center and left guard. That was supposed to happen last summer, too, but injuries stole them from us.

Whether Germain Ifedi unseats Kaleb McGary at right tackle or not, whether Drew Dalman or Jonotthan Harrison take over Matt Hennessy at center or Jalen Mayfield loses the left guard gig to Justin Shaffer or Elijah Wilkinson, incumbents will be pushed.

That's a really good thing for this Falcons offense. The line needs to identify its best five, let it grow together and establish chemistry before the games really count. I can't emphasize how vital that last part is. The season's starting five rarely worked together in camp – Mayfield moved all over the map before being thrust into action at left guard – and had to come together on the fly. That's no easy task.

Even if last year's starting five takes another ride in 2022, they will have earned every snap and gotten better after parrying a stiff challenge.

With all that said, I'm not blind to the fact this offensive line needs a talent infusion. Further investment is required to make it really good, but all that can't happen right now. The offensive line group as currently formed must do better in run blocking and pass protection. They have to win in short-yardage situations, especially on the interior.

Ifedi has a chance to help this unit, and could be a factor inside or outside. He was a first-round pick. He has talent. He'll be a factor inside or out and, a bare minimum, provide better depth than the Falcons had a year ago.

We won't get a great idea of where these guys stand until the pads come on and the lineman can start making real contact. That contact will come against a defensive line that has to get better push.

This is a line of scrimmage story, after all, and should include both sides of it.

I'll leave the pass rush to our new teammate Ashton Edmunds – look for his story on the Falcons pass rush Tuesday morning – and will focus on an interior line that must be better while using essentially the same personnel.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has talked about creating an impenetrable wall that rushers and quarterbacks can't get past while the pocket closes in all around them. That's a big part of nose tackle Anthony Rush's job. We all know Grady Jarrett can get after it, but Ta'Quon Graham, Marlon Davidson and the rest must be stout at the point of attack. And they must be stout together, with no weak links.

That will let other defenders make plays and make life difficult on the opposition. It sounds so simple, yet is so important.

If the Falcons can play better up front, anything is possible. The key thing is improvement, and finding the right combination of personnel required to do so. Finding that group, that rotation, will be as important as anything the Falcons do this summer.


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