Yesterday I talked about the sense of confidence Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith has in Sam Baker, and how it may be misplaced. I also discusses how Baker remaining with the Falcons affects the potential free-agency targets that they could acquire if they had the necessary cap space.
That being said, we can essentially move on to who will be the players competing for the offensive line positions, who will be the starters, and who actually has a shot to be brought in through the draft.
There are two positions that are solid and almost set in stone barring a horrendous injury. Those are Justin Blalock at left guard and Tyson Clabo right tackle. Blalock is 28, just signed a new contract last July, and holds down the position very solidly. Any problems he may have experienced were due to the unpredictable play at all most of his surrounding offensive line positions. The same can be said of Clabo. Obviously the right tackle position is very important for establishing the run game, but pass protection is important as well from RT. Just because its not the blind side of the quarterback doesn’t mean pass protection isn’t important. I wrote another piece on the statistics (provided by Football Outsiders) of blocking on the offensive line in rushing and passing, and Blalock and Clabo both emerged well.
The other three positions will experience a little competition. First we can start at Center. With the signing of Todd McClure, the Falcons have their 2011 starter, and also newcomer/hopeful future center in Joe Hawley on the roster. I think that McClure is the engineer of coordinating the offensive line, but he is getting up there in years, and eventually will be replaced. Hawley is younger, more athletic, and has all the tools necessary to play the Center position, yet could stand to learn a substantial bit from McClure. While the position is not set, I feel better about center than the next two positions.
Right guard is very unstable yet has a tremendous amount of talent competing at the position. When Harvey Dahl left in free agency last year, he left a huge void. Garrett Reynolds was supposed to emerge as the starter out of training camp, but that experiment went poorly after he was injured. Mike Johnson out of Alabama was also expected to compete, but he suffered a concussion and didn’t see the playing field. Andrew Jackson was drafted out of Fresno State in 2011 and is a big hulking talent who can play guard in the NFL. The problem is that with last years injuries and the mystery that is Andrew Jackson, Joe Hawley ended up starting at RG. When he played center during the absence of McClure, Baker filled in at RG; that experiment went horribly awry. This year in free-agency the Falcons added Vince Manuwai to compete and add depth at the guard position. I don’t think the Falcons really want Manuwai to do anything but to provide depth and to push the young guards to win the position out of training camp. Reynolds may never be ready to play guard, but I think that Johnson, who competed and WON against elite SEC competition in college, and Jackson who was a steal in the 7th round last year should win the job. Guard was very messy last year, but could turn around in the blink of an eye.
That leaves us finally with left tackle. The Falcons at this point are not expected to bring in a veteran LT through free-agency, so that leaves Atlanta with exactly the same situation they were in last year. Will Svitek will compete with Baker for the left tackle job. If Baker is 100% healthy and remains that way throughout the whole season, he may be the starter, but I think a 100% Baker is still not as good as a 100% Svitek. The good thing is that there would not be a huge drop in talent if Svitek were to get hurt, as long as Baker is healthy. And that’s a very risky situation.
What remains for the future? I think that the Falcons will probably draft some talent for the line this year. Matt McCants could be a good target as he could be a project the Falcons could take, allowing them to fill immediate needs with their highest picks in the draft. But who really knows? All I hope is that Dimitroff has a plan, because if we go into 2013 with the exact same line as in 2011, things are going to go bad quickly.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons offensive linemen and potential players they may bring in?