Thus far, it has been difficult not to get swept up in the optimism surrounding Falcons training camp. Everyone looks leaner, hungrier and ready to go, and while that only means so much in August, we're all looking for positive signs. It doesn't hurt that most of the team's new acquisitions are looking very good thus far, either.
The good vibes are deserved, but there's a growing and reasonable unease about the state of the offensive line that I think lurks behind every report. The Falcons are returning a healthy Jake Matthews, a recovering Joe Hawley, and a capable Ryan Schraeder at right tackle, which gives them a little continuity. The guard spots are, to put it mildly, unsettled.
There was always going to be some turnover here, with Kyle Shanahan favoring quicker, more athletic linemen and a new coaching staff coming in wholesale, but bluntly the Falcons simply weren't going to be able to turn everything over and put an outstanding line on the field in just one season. Their best blueprint lies in finding at least three or four long-term starters who can play at a reasonably high level, and patching over the other two spots with what they've got.
That's how we've arrived at a potential starting line that features Matthews, James Stone, Hawley, Chris Chester, and Schraeder. That's not a bad line by any stretch of the imagination, and with Jon Asamoah potentially hitting the bench, the Falcons suddenly have legitimate depth on the interior. But Chester is aging, Stone is a question mark due solely to his lack of experience playing left guard, and Matthews and Hawley are of course returning from injury. This could go very well, but there are a million ways it could go very wrong.
After one game, we have a (very limited) answer. The first team offensive line
had a mild surprise in the form of Mike Person at left guard, played well on that magical first drive. Then the Falcons got into the backups, and there were multiple botched snaps, some mediocre protection, and not a lot of great blocking for the ground game. In fact, the one area where the Falcons' first team line was pretty weak was on the ground, partly a function of not having Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, and partly a function of not being the finest assortment of run-blocking linemen ever assembled. Obviously that will have to improve for this offense to have the balance it's craved for several years now, and until we see it we're all going to be a little bit nervous.
The bottom line is this: We know the Falcons defense looks a little better and should be more useful, and the passing game should be as strong as ever. If the offensive line can hold up, this could very well be a playoff team. If injuries and/or poor play wrack the line, though, it could very well be a disappointing debut year for Dan Quinn.
What are your expectations for the offensive line in 2015?