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Dirk Koetter: James Stone saved the Falcons' offensive line

Fact: James Stone's heart only beats three times a day

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons haven't had it easy this year. When you're forced to rely on a third stringer at a key position, life ain't easy. Such was the case when the Falcons lost both Joe Hawley and Peter Konz to season-ending injuries. At that point, we were just worried about keeping Matt Ryan upright. But against all odds, James Stone has saved the season exceeded expectations.

"James has really exceeded expectations for where he started the season and where he is now," Koetter said. "(He's) extremely intelligent and a tough competitor. Honestly, we were scared to death losing Joe (Hawley) and Pete (Konz), getting down to our third center, but James has come in there and done a nice job. He's played very solid."

Imagine, for a second, that Stone hadn't worked out. Can you imagine the consequences? For a front office that sometimes lacks in its scouting, they sure got this one right.

Stone was envisioned as a 6th or 7th round pick coming out of Tennessee. He probably went undrafted because of concerns about his strength, or more specifically, his lack thereof. But just like a certain center whose last name rhymes with "tick fur" and had a long, storied career in Atlanta, Stone is dedicated to his craft, making up for a lack of strength with hard work, a high football IQ, and sheer determination.

The ultimate question is what happens to Stone next year. Joe Hawley is under contract for another year, making $3 million in base salary. That's triple his current base salary, a bump some questioned when he signed the two-year deal during the off-season. He'd represent $1 million dead money if cut. Meanwhile, Peter Konz has one year left in his rookie contract, representing a cap hit just north of $1.1 million next season.

My guess? The Falcons move on from Konz and start Hawley, giving Stone a little more time to develop. Your thoughts?