The OLine of the Atlanta Falcons continues to be an issue, and may have grown into the biggest single concern for the team. Although the passing offense certainly took a step forward this past season, it was clear that the OFF plan was adjusted early in the season largely due to the inefficiency of the OLine. Also troubling was that the OLine continued to regress in run-blocking, which got worse as the season progressed. To take the next step forward, the Falcons must look to better the OLine and give Matt Ryan more time to get the ball down the field.
After the jump, I'll give some potential solutions for what has become an annual concern for the franchise.
The Falcons essentially need to decide on three starters for the OLine, which I'll rank by importance as: Left Tackle, Center, and Right Guard, respectively.
The Sam Baker project is a bust and no more needs to be said about it. It's possible he could have an outstanding offseason and blow the coaches away in preseason, but frankly there's no reason to hope for it. Will Svitek is the incumbent starter and did admiringly well upon taking over the position. However, Svitek didn't show enough to be seriously considered as the starter in 2012. Lastly, Garrett Reynolds is another in-house option, but was very shaky in his play last year, though he was out of position. Also, most of his tackle training seems to have come at RT. So, at least we see that the Falcons will have decent backups available at LT.
Solution: Given the limited options in the draft for acquiring a quality LT, TD will likely turn to Free Agency. Although Jared Gaither is the top LT on the market, he probably has too much baggage for the Falcons. On the other hand, that could keep his price low, so Gaither shouldn't be ruled out entirely. I think it more likely that the Falcons pursue Demetrius Bell (BUF), again depending on the market he creates. Bell has progressed into a solid LT, though he will need to be examined thoroughly before any signing due to injury last year.
Darkhorse: Let Reynolds train for position in the offseason and compete for the job in TC.
There is no easy fix at LT this offseason as each option -- staying in-house or acquiring a FA with uncertain value -- will be a measured risk.
Todd McClure is unfortunately a FA this season, which leaves the Falcons with a tough decision. McClure has decided against retirement, and that appears to be the right decision as he was typically reliable if not fantastic last season (finishing in the top 10 of PBE). Still, McClure is 35 and his health started to wear last season as he missed his first starts in years (if not decades!). Couple that with some very intriguing options at C in FA, and this is not an easy solution.
Solution: Re-sign McClure to a 1 year deal. Legacy players are important to Blank and the organization, and McClure fits that mold. Moreover, he's still performing much better than two-thirds of the league. Again, this is a measured risk due to his age, but McClure seems driven to get a Super Bowl with the Falcons; why not let him? TD tries to appease the UGA fanbase by targeting and drafting Ben Jones for 2013.
Darkhorse: Falcons let McClure walk and draft a C in the mid-to-late rounds (MSU's Quentin Saulsberry for example) to compete with Joe Hawley in TC.
RG is the most frustrating position for the Falcons because they appear to have the depth to field a solid starter at the postion. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case last season. Despite being third on this list, RG was the most under-performing position on the line last season (once Baker was sacked). Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Garrett Reynolds, and even Sam Baker could not stabilize the position. In my estimation, it is most likely that TD will again count on one of these men (with the inclusion of Andrew Jackson) to win the spot, though that will certainly make fans cringe.
Solution: Draft Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State) with the Falcons first overall pick in the second round. Osemele is HUGE with long arms and has performed well at LT, though projects more as an OG in the NFL. We all know that TD likes versatility in the OL, and this pick makes sense in that regard. This also gives the Falcons flexibility if a potential FA LT doesn't pan out.
Thoughts and opinions?