The Falcons looked to have their offensive line set at last through the first few games of last year, but injuries doomed that run of good feelings and sunshine with quickness. With Justin Blalock now gone, a switch to zone blocking concepts in the offing and a couple of linemen coming off injuries, it's natural to want to look outside the organization for an answer at left guard.
What if the team's answer is on the roster, though?
I've seen many project Peter Konz and even Sam Baker to take over at left guard, and the longer the Falcons go without adding competition not named Mike Person, the louder those predictions will become. Konz has dabbled in guard before, but I think the Baker move is being projected primarily because A) they need to get some value out of him if they keep him and B) he's at least used to playing on the left side. These are not irresponsible or bad guesses, by any stretch of the imagination, and if the team's serious about filling that left guard hole, they seem like potential candidates.
Baker's particularly interesting because the Falcons would be able to get some value out of him if he started at left guard. Jake Matthews really should man one of the tackle spots, and Ryan Schraeder has played well enough to this point that he shouldn't be bumped in favor of Baker, who hasn't made a start in two years.
I'm here to propose another name, which hasn't come up much in discussion. Wouldn't it be neat if James Stone went from UDFA third-string center at the beginning of 2014 to the team's starting left guard in 2015? If your reaction to that is sheer horror and/or concern for Matt Ryan's well-being, I get that. But I think it may well be on the table.
Stone's play wasn't great in 2014—he was a third-string center thrust into starting duties in his rookie year, after all—but at 6'3" and 290 pounds, he's about thirty pounds lighter than Blalock and has good athleticism, functional strength and the ability move around. Those are the kinds of attributes you look for in a zone blocking scheme, and with Joe Hawley locked in at center, Peter Konz not an ideal fit for zone blocking looks and Gunn more of a useful reserve, Stone should have a legitimate shot. He's not an inspiring choice in many ways, but he's young, cost-effective and has the toolkit to be a starter, even if some growing pains feel inevitable.
The Falcons could add a free agent guard tomorrow and make this moot—and I don't think anyone would mind that—but I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Person and Stone duke it out for starting left guard duties. I wouldn't bet against Stone in that scenario, because he's already got more starting experience than Person after one year in the NFL.
Who do you think winds up starting at left guard?