Atlanta Falcons: Is Wes Schweitzer ready?

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 26: Matt Ryan
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 26: Matt Ryan /

Is Wes Schweitzer, the first offensive lineman ever drafted by Dan Quinn, ready to inherit the right guard job from Chris Chester and play with the big boys?

The only real question about the Atlanta Falcons’ offense, in terms of player personnel, heading in to this coming season was the right guard position. The incumbent RG of the past two seasons, Chris Chester, was not re-signed as a free agent after 2016 and ultimately retired. He was considered by many to be the one weak link of an other wise excellent offensive, seemingly always the one responsible for allowing a sack or a tackle-for-loss. He ended this past season with a 62.5 grade from Pro Football Focus and was ranked the fifth-worst pass blocking guard by PFF, surrendering 45 total pressures in 628 passing plays.

It was assumed Atlanta would address this soft spot with a significant move in either free agency or the draft. At the start of free agency there were rumors the Falcons were interested in either Kevin Zeitler, T.J. Lang, or Ronald Leary.

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When that didn’t happen, Atlanta showed keen interest in the consensus top guard available in the draft, Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp. They met with him at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, and brought him in for a private workout. As things worked out, they could have stood pat with the 31st pick and selected him. They also could have stood pat with the 63rd pick in the second round and taken the consensus second-best guard in the draft, Indiana’s Dan Feeney.

Obviously, neither scenario happened.

Enter Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland. The 29-year-old Garland came in to the league as an undrafted defensive lineman in 2010 with the Denver Broncos. After serving a two-year commitment with the Air Force he was released and picked up by the Falcons, where he’s played guard, center, and defensive tackle. Schweitzer was drafted in 2015 in the sixth round out of San Jose State. While he made the final 53-man active roster last year and stayed on it for the entire season, he was never activated for a single game, even though he was healthy the whole time. Nonetheless, many presumed the 23-year-old Schweitzer was the favorite to win the RG job immediately following the draft.

In fact, the battle for that job has been quite close. As of this writing, Head Coach Dan Quinn has yet to name a starter at right guard for the season opener on September 10.

I missed the preseason opener against the Dolphins on August 10, and have yet to see the preseason finale against the Jaguars. I have, however, watched every snap of Schweitzer’s against Pittsburgh and Arizona and have the following observations:

On the positive side, I liked his effort and athleticism. I never saw him quit on a play. He fired off the ball at the snap with nice quickness and explosion and delivered a good initial blow to his opponent. He moved well laterally, pulling and setting up screens with ease. He also showed well getting to the second level. He generally held his ground and walled his man off. He kept his head on a swivel and showed good awareness, passing off his original defender when he had to and finding a new target and engaging quickly. His technique and discipline were solid. I never saw him get called for a penalty.

On the negative side, after his initial pop, he rarely generated any movement in the running game. He was clearly better washing someone down the line laterally, using their own momentum against them, than winning a one-on-one battle with power. He was bull-rushed a bit too easily in pass protection. While he could get out to the second level or to the edge when pulling, he seemed awkward out in space, locating a man to block, but then whiffing on him when actually trying to pick him up.

When it’s all said and done, if it’s otherwise too close to call, I would give the starting nod to Schweitzer over Garland. The former Spartan has youth on his side, meaning his upside is greater. He has Alex Mack on one side of him and Ryan Schraeder on the other, so his growing pains should be minimized.

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He should only get bigger and stronger as he continues to learn how to prepare like a pro, and he’s not going to develop by sitting on the bench. Garland’s versatility makes him more valuable as a reserve. Schweitzer’s potential and performance in the preseason thus far should land him the starting job.