We reached out to Chris Pokorny, the longtime editor at Dawgs by Nature, to learn more about Alex Mack.
Dave Choate: Given his contract and the on-again, off-again rumors about him leaving, how are you feeling now that Mack is gone?
Chris Pokorny: I'm upset that we couldn't retain Alex Mack, but given the direction of the team (really since 1999), I don't share much ill-will toward players who leave. I think he would've stayed in Cleveland if the team had made him the same type of deal that Atlanta did, especially if it was made before free agency, but the Browns changed their approach to "complete rebuild mode" at some point in the process.
Dave Choate: Give us the rundown on Mack, if you would. What are his biggest strengths, his greatest weaknesses, and how much did he improve the guard play around him in Cleveland simply by being there?
Chris Pokorny: For his career, Mack has been solid of every aspect of his game -- pass protection, run blocking, and having no issues with the quarterback-center exchange. In 2014, Kyle Shanahan was in Cleveland. For the first five games of the season, the Browns' running game and zone-blocking scheme was tremendous. It was the strength of the team and opposing defenses could not stop Cleveland on the ground. During that fifth game, Mack suffered a broken leg. For most of the rest of the season, the Browns' running game didn't just suffer a slight decline, it plummeted to being a detriment to the team. It was better to just pass it every down than to even bother trying to run the ball. The replacement centers were awful, and the guard play deteriorated a bit too. Mack's absence down the stretch was attributed as a big reason the Browns collapsed at the end of 2014 (started the season 7-4, finished 7-9) and didn't make the playoffs.
This past year, Mack was back with a new offensive coordinator. While our new offensive coordinator was intriguing, he made the mistake of trying to carry over some of the scheme that Kyle Shanahan had the previous year, with some of his own new things. For about the first 10-11 games of the season, the running game failed miserably. At the end of the season, our offensive coordinator finally said, "forget the old system, we're doing something different," and the Browns' productivity skyrocketed immediately. Throughout the season as a whole, Mack was no where near as good as he was to start 2014, but his play was still above average.
Two years removed from his broken leg and re-paired with Shanahan, I think being in Atlanta is a good fit for Mack.
Dave Choate: Our major concern as Falcons fans is that Mack won't be an effective player for the life of his contract. Have you seen any signs of a decline from him?
Chris Pokorny: As I stated earlier, there was a dropoff in production for Mack in his first year back from a broken leg. When I'm talking dropoff, it's not like he became a scrub. Instead of being an elite center every snap, I saw a player who still showed signs of being an elite center, but had some consistency issues or had more individual plays here and there where he was blown off the line of scrimmage at the snap. I just attributed that to one of two things: it being his first year back from a broken leg, or being on a team that was just bad in general.
I wouldn't expect Mack to be in very much decline; you should get solid productivity out of him for several years.
Dave Choate: What should we know about Mack as a person? Is he active in the community and off the field?
Chris Pokorny: Mack has been a great person all-around, and I'm sure the No. 1 thing he'll miss about Cleveland is the close relationships he made with his fellow offensive linemen, specifically Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz (who is now with the Chiefs). Mack was one of those players who you'd always see participating in extracurricular activities. He'd participate in the team's Play 60 events and other kid-related functions. He was nominated by the team at least twice for the NFL's Salute to Service Award and went on a couple of NFL-USO Tours. He will be a welcome addition to the Atlanta community.