2019 NFL Training Camp battles: Falcons have a plethora of options to protect Matt Ryan, how will it shake out?

The Atlanta Falcons have made it clear: they are all in on 2019 as an organization. Of course, the Falcons were all in on 2018 as well and that didn't work out so hot for them, but why not run it back? Dan Quinn knows his seat is hot this year, with last year's team embarrassing Arthur Blank as he hosted the Super Bowl.

Clearly Atlanta believes it's just a piece or two away from being able to secure a Lombardi Trophy, because the Falcons went hyper aggressive in the draft to protect Matt Ryan.

The Falcons started the party off by taking Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom, then traded back into the first round to snag a second offensive lineman in UCLA's Kaleb McGary

With those two selections, the Falcons signaled their intent to double down on offense and use the popular strategy of hope when it came to their defense. Atlanta has plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball; if the Falcons can stay healthy in 2019, that unit should be much improved over previous years. 

That's a story for a different day though. What concerns us now is the aforementioned offensive line. If everything clicks and this unit is as dangerous as it can be, the Falcons could have the best offense in football. But everything has to click on the offensive line. Let's look at how that might happen as several players battle out for several starting spots.


Jake Matthews - LT

The former first-round pick signed a five-year, $75 million deal less than a year ago. He was also named to the first Pro Bowl of his career last season. He's an upper end left tackle who is guaranteed to start at the position for the Falcons as long as he's healthy. 

Alex Mac - C

Another top-tier offensive lineman at his position, Mack was a free agent signing back in 2016 who has been an excellent purchase by the Falcons front office. He joined Atlanta because he liked Kyle Shanahan's system but he's been great regardless of the OC, making the Pro Bowl all three of his seasons in Atlanta. He will be starting at center for the Falcons if he's healthy.

Right Tackle

The biggest position for competition in Atlanta appears to be the right tackle spot. The Falcons brought back Ty Sambrailo on a three-year extension this offseason after having him around for the last two years. Sambrailo played just 25 percent of the Falcons snaps last season. The ideal situation for Atlanta would involve McGary being ready to go out of the gate, winning the right tackle job and relegating Sambrailo to a swing tackle/depth position. Presumably it will be just the two of them competing for the right tackle position.

Left Guard/Right Guard

These two positions probably go hand in hand because of the players involved in winning the jobs. Lindstrom comes in as the young face and squaring off against James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, both signed in the offseason, as the vets. Kelsey Conway of AtlantaFalcons.com believes all three guys will be battling for the two guard spots, as opposed to just giving Carpenter the left guard job and letting Brown and Lindstrom battle it for the right side. That fits with the Quinn approach, as the fiery former defensive coordinator came up in coaching under Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, where competition reigns supreme.

What will be interesting about these two battles will be how pedigree plays out. Carpenter got a four-year, $21 million deal from Atlanta. He's not going anywhere for the next two years based on his cap numbers. Same thing with Brown, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million deal. Sambrailo I guess could be moved on from, but it would be weird to give him that cash and then not expect to utilize him. Those guys are going to be on the roster. Depth is a major strength along the offensive line for Atlanta. That's a good thing.

But what's the play with the rookies? It felt like Atlanta probably wanted to plug and play these guys onto the right side. There's some danger in that -- Geoff Schwartz and I talked about it on the Pick Six Podcast recently, with the former NFL offensive lineman noting that Lindstrom, if he wins the right guard spot, would be helped a ton by sitting next to Alex Mack. It might be tough to ask a duo of rookies handling an entire side of the line. 

Do the Falcons want to let their young guys learn slowly? Would they prefer that Lindstrom and McGary win the jobs outright? Will they put all that veteran money on the bench if the two rookies come out on fire and win the jobs? It's a pretty good problem to have if you're Atlanta, especially when the inevitable injury bug strikes the offensive line. 

The Falcons clearly believe their road to the Super Bowl will run (perhaps even literally?) through the offensive line. They invested heavily in it and now we get to see how the battle on that front plays out.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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