Up until last season, Justin Blalock was a picture of durability and stability at left guard, starting every single game since the 2008 season. Six straight seasons of quality play and bountiful starts should earn a guy plenty of leeway, but this is the NFL, where leeway is not readily granted.
Michael Cunningham's Tuesday piece at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes a closer look , a question that has been floating around in some form or another since the offseason began. Given Blalock's cost and age, some fans have been raising the question longer, but this is the first time the question has resonated with me. That has everything to do with the scheme Kyle Shanahan is planning to install.
Guard Justin Blalock did not test well in either agility drill at the 2007 combine. Blalock, 31, also sat out with a back issue last season after previously never missing a game because of injury.
The knock on Blalock's agility is the relevant piece here. You don't have to be a fast, freak athlete to succeed in zone concepts, but you do have to be quick on your feet. Blalock is effective in pass protection because he has excellent strength and a strong punch that helps him deal with pass rushers, but run blocking has never been the biggest part of his game, and to some extent, that's what zone blocking caters to. Looking at a classic zone blocking guard—at least in terms of size and makeup—would get you a lot closer to Joe Hawley than Justin Blalock.
Personal attachment and history with a team should only go so far, and I readily acknowledge my fondness for Blalock make it difficult for me to envision him being gone. If Kyle Shanahan doesn't believe he's a good fit for the team's zone blocking scheme, however, it's entirely possible his salary will become untenable, making a restructure or cut possible or even likely. If Blalock's back injury isn't one that will be chronic—and I'll readily acknowledge that's a big if—he's going to be able to help a team, and the Falcons may even be able to explore a trade. Any way you slice it, Blalock is no lock to be in Atlanta for the 2015 season. That makes me sad.
What's your sense of Blalock's future with the Falcons?