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Atlanta Falcons Offensive Tackle Breakdown

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by Joe Soriano

The Atlanta Falcons offensive line has been one of the worst units in the league over the last couple of seasons, and even the addition of the sixth overall pick in the draft, Jake Matthews, didn’t help Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense much. In fact, Matthews may have been the team’s worst lineman last season, and he clearly took major lumps in games against the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, allowing 12 pressures and three sacks in those two games combined, per Pro Football Focus.

Kyle Shanahan is now running the show on offense with defense-minded head coach Dan Quinn at the helm, and he’s already brought in one of this “guys” on the offensive line in Tyler Polumbus. The Falcons will implement a zone-blocking scheme that reflects what Shanahan is famous for, but it will take a lot of work on the part of the players on the field to turn their performances around in 2015.

Offensive tackles are the most focused on players on the line, so let’s take a look at the players vying to start at the position on the Falcons offense. It’s a crowded position, but it could become less crowded if someone like Sam Baker kicks inside to guard, which has also been a problem spot for this team despite the successful addition of Jon Asamoah last offseason.

LT or LG Sam Baker

I’ll start off with Baker, because this is a guy who might not be listed among the tackles next season and could even become the team’s starting left guard over Harland Gunn, who hardly inspires confidence as a starter. Baker has stated that he’s open to a position change, and I would be very surprised if the Falcons don’t at least try it out. Whether Baker can successfully make the transition inside remains to be seen, because he was an up-and-down starter at left tackle despite earning a six-year, $41.1 million deal two years ago.

What works in Baker’s favor is the fact that it’s easier to switch to the inside than it is to switch sides on a line, and he can’t be worse than the other options at left guard. After being unable to take a snap last season due to a preseason torn patellar tendon, Baker will be looking to show his quality next season and is an interesting lineman to watch for in training camp.

RT Tyler Polumbus

Polumbus had a surprisingly strong 2013 season that went without much fanfare, but he quickly regressed last season as one of the Washington Redskins worst players on either side of the ball. Perhaps that’s what happens to him when he doesn’t have a Shanahan to work with, because he could be a favorite of the offensive coordinator’s this season after signing with the Falcons earlier this month. I’m sure Shanahan remembers just how well he played for the Redskins a couple of seasons ago, but Polumbus has plenty of work ahead of him.

The right tackle situation is a tough spot to crack, because it’s the one spot that is guaranteed to be up for contest. It would be a surprise if the Falcons gave the left tackle job to anybody but last year’s first-round pick, but there’s no such high-pedigree player on the right side. It’s Polumbus, Lamar Holmes, and surprise 2014 contributorRyan Schraeder, who should have the inside track to the job.

LT Jake Matthews

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Jake Matthews was horrible in his first season in the NFL. We’ve seen plenty of players, such as Trent Williams and Orlando Franklin, have big bounce-back sophomore seasons at tackle, so perhaps Matthews is next in line. Of course, with the way fellow high first-round pick and Texas A&M product Luke Joeckelhas struggled to start his career, there’s a chance all of Johnny Manziel‘s former protectors were overvalued coming out.

Whatever the case, Matthews has to improve, and while he’s locked in as a starter, he could be a bit behind. According to ESPN NFL Nation’s Vaughn McClure, he still isn’t practicing due to a Lisfranc injury, and we can only hope that Matthews doesn’t lose too much time. He’s working with a new offensive coordinator, and even though there’s no doubt he’ll be ready for Week 1 as the team’s starting left tackle, it sucks to see him missing out on so much of the team’s offseason program time.

LT/LG Eric Lefeld

Cincinnati UDFA Eric Lefeld might not even make the Falcons roster out of training camp, but if he does, he might not make it as an offensive tackle. There are concerns regarding whether or not Lefeld can stick on the blindside, and Tony Pauline wrote back in the pre-draft process that the former two-time All-Conference lineman is better off playing at guard. Lefeld lacks the athletic ability to play outside, and he would probably have a better shot at sticking at guard than at tackle.

He was a huge fan favorite in college, but I would be surprised if we talk about him as a tackle on the Falcons roster during the season. He does have intriguing size at 6’6″, 309 pounds, but he’s also been criticized by multiple analysts for not being strong enough.

RT Ryan Schraeder

An underrated pass protector, Schraeder was one of the Falcons most quiet breakout players last season and may have been the team’s second-most effective blocker behind Asamoah. Schraeder, per PFF, allowed just three sacks and 18 total pressures in 655 snaps, and he was tied with Seattle Seahawks touted left tackle Russell Okungwith the tenth-best Pass Blocking Efficiency rating in the league last season.

Those are strong raw numbers, and Schraeder has to be the favorite to start at the tackle spot opposite of Matthews, though Shanahan favorite Polumbus and Holmes will give him a run for his money. Rookie right tackle Jake Rodgers is far too much of a project to worry Schraeder, who could become a very valuable member of the Falcons organization if he can have a repeat performance in 2015.

RT Lamar Holmes

Last season, Holmes played in just four games due to a foot injury that caused him to be placed on the injured reserve, but he didn’t play well at all in those healthy appearances to start the year. Once a promising project, Holmes has failed to flourish in any of his first three seasons, and he’s heading into an important contract year. In an effort to adjust to the new blocking scheme and improve his own ability, Holmes, per the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter, dropped 20 pounds.

Hopefully that makes him a more effective run blocker for explosive rookie RB Tevin Coleman, who will need some good running lanes in front of him. Coleman is a home-run back who has been criticized for his inability to make defenders miss on his own, so he’s going to need plenty of push from the tackles. Of course, Holmes’s pass blocking is even more dire, as we only have to look back to his fully healthy 2014 season to see his ten sacks and 23 total QB hits allowed, per PFF.

RT Jake Rodgers

Rodgers is a camp body who should crack the team’s practice squad as yet another offensive tackle projects, because he’s one of those athletic high school TE converts and could cause the Falcons to have very toned down Jason Peters dreams of him at tackle in the future.

Rodgers has an uphill battle to make the roster out of training camp, but it’s always interesting to watch athletic prospects, especially those making a TE-OT conversion. Unlike Huffer and Lefeld, the Falcons spent a draft pick on Rodgers, though it was in the form of a seventh-round flier.

He isn’t completely inexperienced, of course, as Rodgers was an FCS All-American as a tackle, though the competition he faced at Eastern Washington isn’t exactly representative of the challenges that will be thrown at him in the NFL. Still, he’s one for the future and could become an effective player if he’s able to become technically sound, which is no easy feat.

Edited by MayorWest13
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Matthews was injured. The concern with him is can he come back from what was called a "severe" Lis franc, not his ability to play (or his initial ability, if he is unable to overcome the injury)

Yeah that lisfranc scares me. It would be just our luck if becomes nagging like those particular injuries are known to do.

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Matthews was injured. The concern with him is can he come back from what was called a "severe" Lis franc, not his ability to play (or his initial ability, if he is unable to overcome the injury)

It seems like no one ever gets consideration for injuries. His fundamentals are good, give him some time.

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