Heading into week one of the regular season, the primary uncertainty for Atlanta is who will be the starter at right tackle. Ty Sambrailo has been #1 on the depth chart all offseason but had an uninspiring preseason; Kaleb McGary was a first-round draft pick but a heart procedure forced him to miss the first three preseason games. Their inability to lock down the job has even opened the door for UDFA Matt Gono, who has excelled in camp and during the preseason.
Sambrailo started at right tackle for the last four games of the regular season in 2018. Furthermore, 2018 was the first year in his NFL career that he saw the field in each game. Throughout his career, Sambrailo has played in a total of 44 games, starting 13 of them. But before a serviceable 2018, his track record did not scream “starting right tackle.”
Keep in mind, the single area of importance for Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff during the offseason was patching up the offensive line. Dimitroff did just that by drafting guard Chris Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick and trading up to select McGary with the 31st pick. In addition, Dimitroff made a flurry of free agency signings, including a three-year extension for Sambrailo, to further beef up the offensive line, add depth, and ensure Matt Ryan would not have to endure what he went through in 2018 again.
Expectations were high for McGary until July 31st when he had a (relatively) small procedure to correct a heart problem called ventricular tachycardia. According to The Seattle Times, this is not breaking news to McGary as he has had similar procedures done twice before. The most recent one occurred while he was in the trenches at the University of Washington, causing him to miss about six weeks.
Being a 1st round draft pick, McGary was holding himself to a higher standard as well going into his rookie campaign. And after finally being able to play in his first professional game (August 29), the former Huskie did not disappoint. McGary described his performance as a “feeling of validation.” Ultimately, McGary’s showing made the decision tougher for Head Coach Dan Quinn, as he now only has a week of practice left to decide who will start; however, Quinn mentioned that a decision might not be made for a few weeks, meaning that both players could see regular reps during the first couple weeks of the season.
To me, this is the correct path. I think McGary is more talented and will eventually be rewarded with the starting job; however, his conditioning could be an issue. He admitted after playing 41 snaps last night that he was a little winded, having missed the past month. That, along with only being active for one preseason game, sets him back a few weeks in his progression.
My hope is that DQ gives McGary about half the snaps week one, and slowly increases it each week. By week five or so, when McGary is completely reconditioned, I expect him to be the regular starter, with Sambrailo or Gano filling in when needed.
Having competition for a starting job on the offensive line is a testament to the depth Dimitroff created during the offseason. Injuries happen all the time, so it is never a bad thing to have multiple capable players at the same position, especially one as pivotal as offensive tackle. In the end, the guy who can keep Matty Ice on his feet will win the starting role, whether it’s Atlanta’s first-round pick or an undrafted free agent like Matt Gano.