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Rookie OL Baker quietly gets job done for Falcons


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Rookie OL Baker quietly gets job done for Falcons


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Flowery Branch — When you’re a rookie quarterback making the kind of splash Matt Ryan is, the buzz comes in the papers, on the airwaves and over the internet. For rookie offensive tackle Sam Baker, the new player watching Ryan’s blind side, acclaim comes a little more personally.

Opposing defensive ends have taken to calling the first-round pick “Pup.” Or maybe “Youngsta.”

Will the Falcons extend their two-game streak of not giving up a sack against the Eagles?

Outside of those facemask-to-facemask greetings, it’s been pretty quiet for Baker. And that’s been good news for all involved.

“When you’re not talking about your left offensive tackle when you have a right-handed quarterback, that speaks volumes for the way he’s playing this year,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He’s given up a half sack so far this year.”

Baker and the rest of the Falcons offensive line have protected Ryan as well as most any quarterback in the league.

As a unit, the Falcons offensive line has allowed only seven sacks in their first six games. That’s miles ahead of where they were last year. The Falcons ranked 26th in the NFL last season with 47 sacks allowed. They’re allowing 1.17 sacks per game this year, which is less than half the 2.94 they allowed last year. Only three teams in the NFL have given up fewer sacks than the Falcons — the New York Giants (6), Denver (2) and Tennessee (2).

“I’ve been impressed with how physical and how well they’ve been playing,” Ryan said. “And how together they’ve been playing as unit.”

Ryan hasn’t taken a sack in the last two games against Green Bay and Chicago, which are two victories the Falcons used to become one of the early surprises around the league this year.

But to Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the progress of the offensive line hasn’t been a big surprise. For starters, he recognized that much of the problem last season was a lack of consistency. Largely because of injuries, the Falcons started seven different combinations on the offensive line last season. So far this season, the Falcons have played two. The only change came when Todd Weiner got the start at left tackle against Carolina, the game Baker missed following a concussion.

“When the dust settled, we drafted Sam on the left side, and we had Todd McClure who’s a mainstay at center,” Dimitroff said. “Todd Weiner was going to continue to help our young guys develop. And then our two guys right now on the right side of the line (Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl) are tough, no-nonsense guys. I think that offensive line, to me and to Mike Smith, has never been one that was going to live up to the prognostications. Or live down to them.”

It’s part of the reason Dimitroff felt comfortable making the decision to throw Ryan, and the Falcons’ $72 million investment in him, into the fire.

So far, outside of a couple of helmet-to-helmet shots Ryan took that drew fines, he hasn’t had much to slow him down. If you ask Baker, that has a lot to do with Ryan.

“He does a lot for himself,” Baker said. “He gets rid of the ball really well, hits receivers down field. He’s been doing plenty. But (also) the leaders on the line have taken pride and set a standard — guys like Tyson Clabo and Todd McClure have really set the standard. Coming out of camp, that was an emphasis that those guys put on us.”

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I know injuries, consistency, chemistry, talent, and schemes have a lot to do with how an OL does, but I called it, I knew this OL would be much improved after hearing how great of a leader, blah, blah, blah, etc. Matt Ryan is. A trusted QB by the OL will make them work better IMO. It was showed when sissy Joey was QB and Redman was QB; there was a big difference in how they protected each QB.

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It is hard to diss a guy like Sam Baker! The guy pulls his work gloves on every game and takes pride in his work, protect the QB! He's not going to get the cheers and the accolades like a receiver or QB, but the team all knows that the O-line makes it all possible. I tip my glass to the true warriors!!!!

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I'm surprised but I guess I shouldn't be. For one thing, we have a very good coaching staff helping these guys. Another thing is Mike Smith's approach. He has an open door policy. He listens to his players and gets their feedback. Its a TEAM concept. And the other big key is Matt Ryan's maturity. You see him on the sidelines fired up and he is always praising and thanking his linemen.

This could be the start of something very good for years to come.

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