By John Manasso August 23, 2010 FoxSportsSouth.com
Last season Quinn Ojinnaka was the Falcons’ top reserve at offensive guard and tackle. He played in nine games and started five, as injuries to the Falcons’ line — namely left tackle Sam Baker and right guard Harvey Dahl — forced Ojinnaka into action.
Apparently, three-plus weeks into training camp, the Falcons decided that Ojinnaka, who started a total of 12 games over his four seasons with the Falcons and played in a total of 39, was expendable, shipping him to New England for an undisclosed draft pick.
Head coach Mike Smith said “a bunch of young guys,” including Jose Valdez and rookies Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley are ready to step into Ojinnaka’s role.
“Quinn can play guard and tackle for us; he was kind of a guy who was a swing guy, so it’s going to give the guards on the depth chart more reps and the tackles,” Smith said. “As you get going to the end of training camp, you’ve got to make decisions as to who’s going to be on your 53-man roster. So there will be a lot of evaluation once that first group gets out” of Friday’s third preseason game against Miami.
In addition to the play of the Falcons’ young players — Garrett Reynolds, who played some in emergency situations as a rookie last season, is likely another — several other factors likely played into the decision to part with Ojinnaka while receiving seemingly little in return. Ojinnaka was brought in in 2006, when Jim Mora coached the Falcons and the team employed a cut-blocking technique that its current staff does not use.
There also is Ojinnaka’s arrest in Gwinnett County on a simply battery charge, stemming from a domestic dispute earlier this year. In June, the NFL suspended Ojinnaka for the season opener as a result of that charge. The Falcons have shown little tolerance for players who step afoul of the law, especially in domestic cases. In 2009, the team allowed linebacker Michael Boley, one of its leading tacklers the previous season, to depart via free agency to the New York Giants for a contract reportedly worth $25 million following Boley’s arrest on a domestic battery charge.
Ojinnaka’s departure also coincides with the development of tackle Will Svitek, who filled in at left tackle last season when starter Sam Baker was hurt. Smith is high on the two rookies, saying on Monday that “I think our young draft picks have played very, very well. Michael Johnson and Joe Hawley — both those guys are everything we thought they would be.”
But if one of the starting guards go down — and Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl (who missed five games last season) are arguably the team’s best linemen — the Falcons’ youth and depth will be tested.