FLOWERY BRANCH — It takes a lot to surprise veteran offensive guard Andy Levitre.
His last week qualifies as far more than a surprise.
After being traded from Tennessee to Atlanta on Sept. 4, Levitre was immediately named a starter on the Falcons’ offensive line that will be together in a game for the first time in Monday night’s opener against Philadelphia.
“It’s something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Levitre said Thursday.
Levitre, the left guard, is one of at least three new starters on the line. Center Mike Person was a backup for the Rams last season. Right guard Chris Chester followed new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from the Washington Redskins.
The holdover starters are left tackle Jake Matthews and right tackle Ryan Schraeder.
More changes could be coming. The Falcons were taking a second look at veteran tackle Jake Long on Thursday. Long had a workout for the team during training camp.
Also in the last week, guard Ben Garland was signed to the practice squad, guard Gino Gradkowski and tackle Bryce Harris were claimed off waivers from Denver and New Orleans, respectively.
During the time the Falcons’ locker room was open to reporters on Thursday, Garland was seen walking around in a circle before finally asking a teammate: “Where’s the training room?”
These are the questions usually heard on the opening day of training camp, not three days before the season opener.
Quarterback Matt Ryan can only hope the new line comes together in practice this week. For those linemen, this was a great time for the opening game to be played on Monday night instead of Sunday. Another day of practice is a big deal.
“We’ve got to make sure everybody gets on the same page as fast as possible,” Ryan said Thursday. “I’m going to try to do everything I can to help those guys out.”
Matthews, who missed the Falcons’ final preseason game with a back strain, practiced Thursday.
Levitre has started every game in his six years with Buffalo and Tennessee but had lost his starting job with the Titans before the trade to Atlanta. His experience in the zone-blocking scheme used by Shanahan will help him adjust quickly to the Falcons’ playbook.
Levitre already has Ryan’s respect. When the quarterback was asked if he was concerned for his health behind the patchwork unit, Ryan responded by naming Levitre as a lineman he trusts.
“But we’ve got guys — Andy is a guy who’s played a lot of ball, played a lot of ball at a high level,” Ryan said. “You know once he gets out there, he’s going to compete and he knows what it takes in order to be successful. I think scheme-wise, he’s a smart guy.”
Ryan said Levitre has “picked up a lot quickly” in his first few days.
It’s not as if Levitre has much choice. He has to scramble to make the most of his opportunity.
“I’ve had to really adjust on the fly and go with it,” he said. “But it’s exciting.”
Even though the Falcons are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, Levitre sees Atlanta as his best opportunity to finally play in the postseason.
“I’m real excited about this,” he said. “I think we have a great opportunity to win a lot of games here. I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”
That makes the furious scramble to learn the Falcons’ playbook worth the extra work.
“I haven’t won a lot of games in my career,” Levitre said. “I think this is a great opportunity for me to be around a lot of talent and make the playoffs finally.”