Two-way Garland: Falcons lineman plays offense and defense

HOUSTON (AP) While his Atlanta Falcons teammates are enjoying a little down time, Ben Garland is hard at work.

He's watching plays on his iPad and jotting down a few tips in a spiral notebook.

No time to relax.

He'll have a lot to remember come Sunday.

Garland could be one of the rare players to play both sides in the Super Bowl, since he's a backup on Atlanta's offensive and defensive lines, in addition to his special-team duties.

''It's a lot of studying, a lot of homework, a lot of film work,'' Garland said. ''But it's totally worth it.''

The 28-year-old Garland played defensive tackle during his college career at the Air Force and early in his NFL career, but he wound up being moved to the offensive line.

Then, during training camp before this season, Falcons coach Dan Quinn approached Garland about working with both units.

The lineman jumped at the chance. After all, he's been released three times and spent a lot of time on the practice squad, so he was willing to do anything that might improve his chances of staying in the league.

''I have multiple iPads,'' Garland said. ''I've got to watch offense, defense, everything. But I'm glad the coach gave me the opportunity to do it.''

This week in Houston, Garland has been getting extra work at center while Pro Bowler Alex Mack nurses an injured fibula.

Mack is expected to start on Sunday, but Garland is the insurance policy. If not needed there, he could play some defense. Already in the playoffs, he was credited with a safety when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson tripped in the end zone and Garland landed on top of him, perhaps the biggest play in a career that has gone largely unnoticed.

''That was awesome,'' he said. ''Any time you get a sack or a safety, it's a great day, let alone in a game like that.''

Quinn certainly appreciates what Garland means to the Falcons.

''He's been a real factor for us,'' the coach said. ''One of the terms that we use is guys that don't show up on the stat sheet but own their role, and Ben exemplifies that on our team as well as anybody.''

Garland has to work around a schedule that doesn't always allow him to be in every meeting.

''I've got to go back and talk to coaches and other players to get the information I missed,'' he said. ''But's that's the only drawback.''

And for those who think it's no big deal to play offensive and defensive line, they are actually quite different.

''On the offensive line, you're so balanced. A lot of the offensive positions are not natural. It's very compact, arched back, everything's trying to be balanced,'' Garland explained. ''Whereas on D-line, you can be a little bit more aggressive. You can be a little more athletic. ... So getting that relationship of being aggressive on defense yet being extremely balanced when you come back to offense is probably the hardest part.''

Garland doesn't have a favorite.

''I love them both, for different reasons,'' he said. ''On defense, you can just let it loose and fly around and get after somebody. But on offense, when you get all 11 guys working simultaneously and a play breaks, that's a cool feeling to have.''

Garland's work ethic is unquestioned, but that's to be expected from a player who had to delay his pro career while serving a two-year military commitment. He's now a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard, serving out the rest of his stint between seasons.

''He's a man of great character,'' Quinn said. ''He's somebody that's going to be there early and he's going to stay late. Often times he's the first guy onto the practice field working stuff at center. He wants to stay after, work extra things.''

The only other drawback about being a two-way player?

When he catches grief from opponents about turning up on the other side of the line.

''They're like, `What are you doing here?''' Garland said with a smile.

A small price to pay, that's for sure.

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

---

For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.