Think back to the 2013 season. The offensive line was a nightmare. They weren't the only reason the Falcons performed so poorly last season, but there's no denying they were a big factor, and the play at both tackle positions was pretty horrible.
Fast forward to 2014, and this unit features a lot of new faces. How is the tackle position shaping up as we head into training camp?
Jake Matthews might not have been at the top of everyone's wish list in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he does fill a glaring need at right tackle and appears to be settling into the NFL nicely. If Matthews is as good as advertised, this is a huge upgrade for a unit that desperately needed one.
Sam Baker is reportedly healthy and is also making a ton of money, so let's hope he stays healthy lives up to his full potential this season.
Lamar Holmes was not good last season. Per Pro Football Focus, Holmes allowed 10 sacks, 13 hits on Matt Ryan, and 53 hurries--significantly more in each category than any other offensive lineman. Again, let's hope Sam Baker stays healthy and plays well.
Mike Johnson has returned after suffering a gruesome leg injury during training camp last season. Johnson was reportedly the front runner for the starting right tackle spot last season prior to the season-ending injury, and he's definitely in the mix to serve as a backup should (heaven forbid) injury necessitate such a thing.
Terren Jones is gigantic--6'7" and 320 pounds--and spent most of last season on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster late in the year.
Ryan Schraeder saw some action during the 2013 season, and he wasn't that terrible in the grand scheme. Schraeder graded out with a -3.7 for the season (compared to -15.2 for Baker and -38.2 for Holmes) and allowed 4 sacks and 12 hurries in 315 snaps.
What's New in 2014?
The Falcons used the sixth overall pick to address the tackle position, and Jake Matthews should be an excellent addition to this unit. Atlanta also hired Mike Tice to coach the offensive line, hoping to impart some nastiness to a unit that definitely appeared to lack it last season.
The Big Question
Will Sam Baker stay healthy? If he doesn't, the left tackle position should still be okay, as Jake Matthews would likely shift over to cover the vacancy. That scenario would, however, create the problem of who fills the right tackle role and how much of an impact that would have on the performance of the unit as a whole.
Best Case Scenario
After last season, almost anything would be an improvement. The best case scenario, however, is truly effective quarterback protection and run blocking, as well as everyone involved (we're looking at you, Sam Baker) staying healthy.
Worst Case Scenario
After last season I don't even like to think about how it could get worse along the offensive line. It won't be ideal if Matthews doesn't develop, Sam Baker gets injured again, and/or this season looks a lot like last season for the tackle position, only with the sixth-overall 2014 NFL Draft pick contributing to the horror.
Jake Matthews has an impressive NFL pedigree. His father, Bruce Matthews, is a Hall of Famer. His cousins are Clay Matthews, III and Casey Matthews, and their father, Clay Matthews, II , and grandfather, Clay Matthews, Sr. all played in the National Football League.
What do you think about the tackle position heading into training camp? What do you hope to see from this unit during the season?