FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Pete Mangurian is about to enter his least favorite time of year.
The Atlanta offensive line coach, in the second summer of his second tenure with the Falcons, doesn't like having to cut players, but it's part of his job.
After the team's mandatory two-day mini-camp ends Friday, Mangurian will have a better idea who stays and who goes. These are the days that Mangurian wouldn't mind taking a sabbatical and returning briefly to the relative Ivy League calm of Cornell, where he worked as head coach for three years ending in 2000.
"Here's the best way I can put it," said Mangurian, who's about to enter his 12th year as NFL assistant under Dan Reeves. "We're going to let go of some guys that can play. That's bad if you're one of those guys, but it's good for us as a football team. We're going to have to make some tough decisions Last year, we didn't make a lot of tough decisions."
With training camp set to begin July 25 at Furman University, Mangurian will have spent the better part of the last 10 weeks working closely with his linemen. The group has spent more time in the classroom than it has on the field, but that's about to change.
Mangurian insists he doesn't know where the next month will take Travis Claridge, the Falcons' first draft pick of 2000, a second-round selection from Southern California who was projected to hold down the right side of the line for several years.
Neither Claridge, a 16-game starter as a rookie, nor the now-departed Ephraim Salaam, who had manned the right tackle position since 1998, got off to a good start with Mangurian.
Kynan Forney, however, made a positive impression immediately, and the seventh-round draft choice from Hawaii began last season as the starting right guard. Claridge, who worked at both positions his first year, returned to tackle.
Forney quickly succumbed. The combination of a turf toe injury and the pancake beating he took from San Francisco's Dana Stubblefield in the opening game loss sidelined Forney. Atlanta opened at home two weeks later with Claridge starting at guard and Salaam at tackle, and the Falcons' offense looked impressive in the 24-16 victory.
To this day, neither Claridge, Mangurian nor Reeves will say specifically why Forney won the job back nine weeks later. Claridge, a starter in every game of organized football he'd ever played, spent the last month of the season wearing a hat and standing alone on the sideline.
Coincidence or not, the Falcons were 6-4 when Claridge started, 1-5 when he sat. The fluctuating line caused quarterback Chris Chandler to plea for Mangurian and Reeves to settle on a starting five and stick with it. Chandler, who was released in February as the only quarterback to lead Atlanta to the Super Bowl, only needed to point at his lack of protection - an NFL-high 66 sacks allowed and a staggering ratio of one every 8.35 passing plays - as evidence.
Mangurian still thinks the Falcons, who scored only 15 touchdowns in their final 42 possessions inside the 20-yard line, made the right call in letting Forney experience his trial-by-fire.
"To be the same for the sake of being the same isn't what you do," Mangurian said. "Since I've been here, they can't say they didn't get an opportunity. Bob Hallen, Ephraim, those guys - I came in and said, 'Let's start over.' I tried to make a decision on what I saw and not on what you hear. Staying the same at 7-9 isn't going to cut it."