One of the heated battles in training camp for the Atlanta Falcons will be at running back as second-year back Devonta Freeman attempts to hold off rookie third-round pick Tevin Coleman out of Indiana for the starting spot.
Yet, the winner of that battle won’t mean as much if the Falcons’ offensive line doesn’t improve in 2015.
To say the Falcons’ line wasn’t the greatest in 2014 would be a very kind thing to say. According to Pro Football Focus, the Falcons’ offensive line ranked 26th overall out of 32 teams in the NFL. The line’s poor play wasn’t seen much in the passing game as the Falcons were fifth in passing yards in 2014. And 18 teams had more sacks than Atlanta’s line allowed last year.
The line, however, struggled in establishing a consistent rushing attack.
Some of that was because of injury, which forced the Falcons to flip and flop, mix and match at times. Some of it were the runners themselves. Regardless, the Falcons made a couple of moves that sent a message to the line – perform or you will no longer be needed. Atlanta brought in free-agent guard Chris Chester from the Washington Redskins. Running the zone-blocking scheme of new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Chester ran a similar scheme in Washington as well as provides a solid veteran presence to the line.
The Falcons said goodbye to former first-round draft pick Sam Baker. Thought to be the line’s anchor for many years to come, Baker missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury and was released on Monday. In six years with Atlanta, Baker played in 70 games and had 61 starts. He was originally selected with the 21st pick of the 2008 NFL Draft.
His release guarantees that Jake Matthews, who took over at left tackle for Baker, will be the team’s left tackle. But Matthews struggled in his rookie season allowing seven quarterback sacks, according the Pro Football Focus. Yet, the rookie showed toughness. According to ESPN.com, Matthews played through a high-ankle sprain and had surgery at the end of the season on his foot.
With Matthews healthy, a year in the league under his belt and by releasing Baker, the Falcons are showing they have faith in their young lineman.
The right side of the line should be fine with Ryan Schraeder at tackle and Jon Asamoah at guard holding down the fort. If center Joe Hawley (ACL) isn’t ready, then Chester may have to move to center and the Falcons could go with Mike Person at guard.
Among right tackles, Schraeder was ranked second in the league by Pro Football Focus behind Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner in pass blocking efficiency, allowing three sacks and 18 hurries last season. Two of those sacks, however, came in the Week 17 Atlanta disaster against the Carolina Panthers for the divisional title.
Atlanta averaged 93.6 yards rushing last year. Shanahan, who was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator last year, saw the Browns average 108.0 rushing yards. In 2012, as Washington’s offensive coordinator, the Redskins were fifth in the league in rushing averaging 135.3 yards per game.
That should bode well for Atlanta this season.
Notes: Former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Chris Houston (2007-09) signed a one-year contract with division-rival Carolina Monday. Houston was selected by the Falcons in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft out of Arkansas.