The Atlanta Falcons are in the midst of evaluating every spot on the roster and determining its future viability, and no groups will get as much focus as the trenches.
The team has been a perennial disappointment in fielding excellent offensive and defensive lines for as long as any of us can remember, with spurts of excellent play hidden by mediocrity. That was certainly the case in 2018, when the offensive line spent a significant part of the year operating as a liability.
It sounds like, at least on the offensive side of the ball, the buck stops here for Dan Quinn, per 92.9 The Game’s Knox Bardeen in his report DQ’s weekly radio program.
“I’m comfortable at center and left tackle in the same way as you said,” said Quinn. “Past that, you scrub every bit of it. One of the projects we’re going through with the staff now is we’re all watching the season together, in order, on both sides of the ball together.
“I wanted the line’s perspective the [offensive] line guys looking at the defense, the defensive guys looking with perspective at the offense. I thought, we’ll grow as a staff during this moment of difficulty and knowing that everything is out there for everyone to see. Here’s this light, here’s what we’re shining on it, this is the performance we put out together, so how do those moments change to say this should never happen to this Brotherhood again in terms of performing this year like we have and finishing with a losing record.”
Quinn says the team is looking to revamp the run game, which, as Bardeen notes, ranked 27th in the league in 2018. That will likely mean personnel changes on the line, where Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are the only sure things at the moment.
“The run game closes the entire circle of toughness on your team,” said the Falcons head coach. “The better you’re able to run it, the better your defense is going to be able to stop the run. I think those things go hand in hand. They [the offensive and defensive lines] battle each other every day, they get after it against one another and it gets them sharper and stronger as the season progresses.”
If this holds true, the Falcons could have a new set of guards and a new right tackle heading into 2019. It’d be hard to blame the team if that’s the route they take.
It doesn’t sounds like, by this, that pending free agent Andy Levitre is coming back, nor does it sound like his replacement, Wes Schweitzer, has done enough to solidify a spot on the starting line. DQ has praised Schweitzer for his work ethic in the past, but the on-field play is too inconsistent to really justify keeping him locked in there as a starter.
Right guard was thought to head back to 2018 FA acquisition Brandon Fusco, but that even sounds like anything but a sure bet. Fusco was decentish before his injury, but maybe the team won’t settle for decent anymore at right guard. That’s long been the strategy there under Thomas Dimitroff, with the team focusing on the other four spots on the OL.
Dimitroff has acknowledged in the past his change of heart about investing in the interior OL.
Fusco’s post-injury replacements, Ben Garland and Zane Beadles, don’t seem like viable options going forward, though we might expect Garland or Beadles back as a reserve. Probably not both.
Schraeder comes with some pause, as he was playing at a high level just two seasons ago and might have an underlying issue with injury we aren’t aware of holding him back. Though, “scrub” is a definitive word, and it makes it sound like the team might move on from the former UDFA out of Valdosta State, too.
Over the Cap says that designating Schraeder as a post-June 1 release would only incur $1.3 million against the 2019 cap, $1.3 mil. in 2020 and $1.2 mil. in 2021, and would save the team about $6.45 million for the upcoming league year. It’s very much possible that this is the avenue the team takes.
That’d open the offensive line to any number of moves: new guys brought in via trade (the team has some mid-level comp picks to work with), free agency and in the draft (perhaps as high as the first round).
While Jake Matthews had a career year at left tackle, and Alex Mack continues to chug along as a great center, it certainly seems that the other spots are prone to change-out.
It also sounds like there will be no major scheme overhaul, and the fixes will be ‘subtle.’
“I think some technique, some scheme, some players, in some regard,” said Quinn on how to spark the Falcons run game. “I think it’s a combination of all three to say ‘Who will take on a different role at some of those spots, especially among the offensive line, what tweaks to the scheme we will do?’
“We’re not going to have any wholesale changes to a new system altogether. We’ve got real belief. The vision isn’t changing it’s just how do we want to feature that more, and that part will change.”
So that might mean the team is going for a guy for the offensive coordinator vacancy who will stick to that outside zone mentality, as opposed to something more focused on power. That would absolutely rule out Mike Mularkey, who the team has interviewed for the spot.
At the end of the day, changing over three starting spots on the offensive line is a lot for one offseason. The Falcons, who appear ready to embark on an ambitious offseason, may just try to do it.