Before we dive into my thoughts on the Falcons offensive line, I think it's important to reiterate some things about training camp and this part of the NFL calendar. For starters, it is entirely too early to make any firm prognostications about what this team is going to look like on the field. Additionally, while the new coaching staff gives us reason to be optimistic, there are many hurdles for this team to overcome. Both the offense and defense are learning new schemes, and even though they are likely to be simpler than what was run in the past (particularly on defense), there is still going to be a learning curve and some growing pains. With that said, here are some early thoughts on what I saw out of the offensive line unit on the first weekend of camp.
More than any other concern, the health of the members of the offensive line has been at the forefront of most fan's minds. Last years list of injured players was sickeningly long and many of those guys had injuries that required surgery and/or extensive rehab in the off-season.
I'm glad to say that the early returns look promising.
Joe Hawley - who suffered a torn ACL and MCL last year - was right in the thick of things during practice. He's participating in a good number of the drills, though he is getting some time off to spend on the sidelines with the trainers. Based on his movement and the limited snaps I saw, he appears to be coming along nicely.
Jake Matthews, who had a Lisfranc injury, also appears to be in great health. He appeared to be a full participant in nearly all of the drills and he looks as quick as he did last year. His ability to set quickly into his stance off the snap is very impressive in person and I'm glad to say he looks to be in good form early.
Technique and Depth
While watching the offensive line go through their drills on Saturday August 1st, there were some immediate takeaways that jumped out to me. First, this coaching staff has all of these guys moving non-stop. There is very little downtime for any of the OL during their drills. This will be critical for getting them ready for the cardio-stretching tendencies of the ZBS.
Additionally, while watching Matthews demonstrate near perfect form during the drills, it was interesting to contrast that with guys like Polumbus who is more upright and stiff in his movements. Concerns about the depth at offensive tackle won't be made better by that statement, but it is what I saw in limited snaps. Let's hope that it was an anomaly or that it gets cleaned up during camp.
As mentioned elsewhere, the coaches are actively involved in teaching and correcting the players after every movement. As good as Matthews technique is, I saw a coach stop him immediately after one of his snaps and correct his hand usage - which was going wide and to the shoulders (which will get you called for holding all the time). After the quick correction, he had Matthews immediately apply the lesson. It's a subtle difference from the last regime, but one that I think will pay big dividends.
As for the depth on this line, quite a few guys are getting snaps with the first team. Quinn and his coaches seem determined to find the absolute best pairing of guys while also giving every player a chance to prove he belongs. While there are definitely some presumed starters - like Hawley, Matthews and Asamoah - guys like Person and Polumbus are getting valuable first team reps, which can only help in developing the overall depth. There is some concern about the quality of these players, but it's too early to draw any firm conclusions either way.
Leadership and Cohesion
Of all the units on the field, cohesion may matter the most to the offensive line. It's also one of the more encouraging things I saw at camp. While no amount of cohesion is going to make a poor player good, it is absolutely critical that the guys on our offensive line play well together. Even the most talented lines can be torn apart if they don't communicate well. In that regard, the return of Joe Hawley from injury really appears to be a boost for this unit. He's a fiery player, but also one that seems to draw the other guys together.
At one point, Hawley had the OL interacting with the fans on the sidelines. He was hamming it up, which garnered my attention because it was something you didn't see much under the previous regime - at least in recent years. Those moments of humor and letting loose can work wonders for a unit. I don't want to oversell this as being the most critical aspect of offensive line play, but the overall looseness of the players was evident. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, which will only make them that much more receptive to the coaching and the new regime. It's a change that many won't talk about, but that I think is a positive sign on how this unit is progressing.
As mentioned earlier, it's entirely too early to start drawing conclusions about how this unit is going to look when it counts. But we can at least get an idea on the direction and health, which will certainly influence how well this unit will play when the pads go on. From the very early returns, things are looking promising. Let's hope each day in camp only continues to build on that promise.