The Falcons' blocking will have a decidedly different flavor in 2015, when they return to the zone-based principles that made Alex Gibbs such a legendary offensive line coach in Atlanta.
Shanahan said offensive line will major in running outside zone. Says o-linemen will run more than they ever have.— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) February 10, 2015
Shanahan said having linemen that can run in the zone scheme isn't about 40 time. It's about quickness.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) February 10, 2015
You can read an in-depth look at the zone here from the excellent Danny Kelly, but suffice to say a zone scheme is a big change. Shanahan said he would focus on the wide zone run, which is what Gibbs specialized in for the Falcons and Broncos during the heydays of Warrick Dunn and Terrell Davis. The scheme requires reasonably athletic, quick linemen who can slide laterally to either occupy a defender or assist the guy next to them in doing so, with the aim to an easy read for the running back, who can either cut inside or follow the wall of linemen in front of him to the sideline, where he can hopefully break loose. When run well by linemen who excel in the scheme, it can turn an average running game into a good one, and a good one into a great one.
What this means for the team's current linemen is, of course, up for debate. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are reasonably athletic tackles who should be able to adjust easily, Joe Hawley is known for his athleticism at center and Jon Asamoah is going nowhere. Lamar Holmes and Peter Konz are less athletic and perhaps less able to adjust, and Justin Blalock spent the start of his career in a zone blocking scheme, but is getting older and hasn't had to run that much in a long time. I'm hopeful he'll return, but among the likely 2015 starters, he's the biggest question mark.
My best guess for the line from left to right, with potential reserves for 2015:
LT: Jake Matthews
LG: Justin Blalock
C: Joe Hawley
RG: Jon Asamoah
RT: Ryan Schraeder
Backups: Harland Gunn, James Stone, Rookie Tackle, Free Agent Tackle
Ultimately, though, we'll hope the Falcons can block effectively for Matt Ryan and spring their backs, whoever those might be. If we're lucky, Devonta Freeman will thrive with Shanny at the helm, and the Falcons' latest go with zone blocking will be their most successful yet.