Undoubtedly the most scrutinized position on Atlanta’s roster last year, the Falcons’ offensive line couldn’t be described as anything other than a complete failure in 2013. We know the numbers: Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times last season and was knocked down on countless other occasions. Additionally, the line couldn’t open up any lanes for the Falcons’ running backs and took heat for their lack of toughness; they just couldn’t do anything right.
Thankfully for the Falcons, and Matt Ryan’s life, the coaching staff realized that drastic changes were needed if the team was going to have any sort of success going forward. Atlanta commenced those changes with the firing of offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn, replacing them with the tough and fiery Mike Tice.
More importantly, the Falcons signed Jon Asamoah to extinguish the dumpster fire at right guard, drafted Jake Matthews in the first round to massively upgrade right tackle, brought back Joe Hawley to solidify center, and regain a healthy Sam Baker to hold down left tackle. Consequently, four regular starters from last season — Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, Garrett Reynolds, and Jeremy Trueblood — won’t be counted on in 2014; drastic changes indeed.
There will be plenty of attention on the entire line going forward, but everyone will be watching rookie Jake Matthews especially close. Atlanta needs Matthews to acclimate quickly to the speed of the NFL. He enters his first year as a highly-touted, NFL-ready technician and will look to hold his own against the Falcons’ veteran pass-rushers. The sixth-overall pick has met expectations early on and has the potential to become the Falcons’ best lineman by season’s end — he’ll just have to survive camp first.
Sam Baker’s health will be something to keep a close eye on as well. Seemingly cursed by the injury bug, Baker has missed significant chunks of time throughout his career due to various back and knee injuries. Atlanta needs Baker to remain healthy for an entire year, and if he does, the Falcons could have one of the best pass-protecting units in the league.
With the return of Justin Blalock and Hawley, in addition to the signing of Asamoah, the Falcons’ starting five linemen are set with Baker and Matthews manning the tackle positions; the battle for backup jobs will be much more competitive.
At tackle, the Falcons have the young group of Lamar Holmes, Ryan Schraeder, and Terren Jones fighting for a spot.
At guard, Atlanta will retain the best of Mike Johnson, Gabe Carimi, Harland Gunn, and Adam Replogle.
Behind Hawley, Peter Konz and UDFA James Stone will duke it out for the backup center job.
The Falcons added a wealth of talented new faces to the offensive line, and how quickly they gel together will go a long way in determining the Falcons’ success or failure in 2014.
Follow Michael on Twitter (@RiseUpReader) for more Falcons analysis!