Falcons veteran guard Jon Asamoah braces for demotion

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The signs were evident over the last few days.

Gradually, the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff worked Chris Chester and James Stone at both guard spots while Jon Asamoah, the returning starter at right guard, watched from the background. Although Asamoah missed a couple of days with a stomach virus, his exclusion from the first-team offensive line had nothing to do with his ailment.

Clearly, the coaches at this point view Chester and Stone as better suited to run the outside zone blocking scheme Kyle Shanahan implemented upon taking over as offensive coordinator. In fact, the team's unofficial depth chart for Friday's exhibition opener against Tennessee has Chester listed as the starter at right guard ahead of Asamoah, although Chester started training camp in a backup role. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Chester has really jumped out with his quickness and balance.

How did Asamoah take the demotion? Like a six-year pro.

"I'm just ready for anything," Asamoah said after Monday's practice. "You never know what's going to happen. You never know how things are going to go. I just know in this league that things are one way one day and then change fast."

In other words, Asamoah is by no means ready to concede defeat. Again, plenty could change from now until the season opener against Philadelphia on Sept. 14. But as of right now, the coaches appear most comfortable with the starting line group of Jake Matthews at left tackle, Stone at left guard, Joe Hawley at center, Chester at right guard and Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. (The unofficial depth chart has Mike Person as the starting left guard and Stone as the backup center.)

"It's just competing," Asamoah said of the line situation. "It's tough on the inside (of the line). There are a lot of guys playing really, really well. So, it's just competing."

The 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pound Asamoah, who started 15 games at right guard last season, doesn't appear to be the ideal fit for the Shanahan's outside zone scheme, although Asamoah did play in a similar system during his early days with Kansas City. Chester played under Shanahan in Washington, and such familiarity is why the Falcons signed him as a free agent this offseason. Both Chester and Stone have the versatility to play either guard spot along with center, which makes them more valuable commodities.

Asamoah, who was signed last year more for his pass protection, was asked how he felt he fit in Shanahan's run-blocking scheme, which requires linemen to get out and run swiftly.

"It's good," Asamoah said. "Everything, you're relearning. You're getting used to hearing everything new; new techniques. You're just getting used to coming out here and grinding every day."

If Asamoah officially loses his starting job going into the season, it would be an example of the changing mentality around the Falcons organization. Some might think Asamoah, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed, would be a guaranteed starter as the highest paid offensive lineman on the roster at $4.5 million per year. Quinn obviously wants to get the best players on the field, no matter their contract status.

That being said, Quinn spoke highly of Asamoah's professionalism through the transition.

"I wouldn't necessarily say he's fallen behind," Quinn said. "The battle is still wide open for him. Jon's a terrific competitor inside."