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Falcons address one big need with center Alex Mack


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Falcons address one big need with center Alex Mack

  • Vaughn McClure ESPN Staff Writer

At least the Atlanta Falcons addressed one of their most pressing needs.

The acquisition of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, which will become official after 4 p.m. ET when the new league year starts -- helps the Falcons find stability at a position where they struggled last season. Mack, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 311 pounds, is a good athlete who is solid in both run blocking and pass protection. Not to mention he is accustomed to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s expectations in the outside zone blocking scheme. Shanahan coached Mack for five games during the 2014 season before Mack suffered a season-ending broken fibula.

There will be questions about how much the Falcons decided to pay Mack -- more than $9 million per year according to reports --based on the various other needs, especially at pass-rusher. But if the 30-year-old former first-round draft pick out of Cal holds up health-wise he should be a dependable force for years to come.

Center was a position initially anticipated to be solid under Joe Hawley, but Hawley’s lingering knee injury caused the Falcons to cut ties before the start of last season. That led to the experiment of moving guard Mike Person to center, which backfired from the start based primarily on Person’s inexperience snapping the football. James Stone wasn’t the answer, either, despite having starting experience. Stone had issues with snaps and in protection as well.

The Falcons ended last season with Gino Gradkowski as the starting center. Although Gradkowski gathered some support to compete for next season’s starting role, he was viewed as undersized from the start.

Now with Mack, the Falcons shored up at least one aspect of their shaky interior of the line, although they are in dire need of upgrades at both guards spots as well. Quarterback Matt Ryan felt too much pressure up the middle, so Mack could help alleviate at least some of those concerns. And Mack is very good at getting out and pulling, which makes him an ideal fit as a run blocker. Plus he’s known for making all the right calls up front.

One veteran NFL personnel person familiar with Mack offered this scouting report:

Smart veteran player at the end of his career. Can offer leadership qualities. Better positional blocker than power type. He will run block better in a zone/stretch scheme than a power type. He will have issues against bigger players and could struggle against divisional defensive line opponents like (Kawann) Short and (Star) Lotulelei of the Carolina Panthers.

When Mack decided to opt out of the final three years of his contract, it made sense for the Falcons to investigate the possibility of adding him to the roster. Now that he’s in the fold, the Falcons have to feel comfortable about what they might be able to accomplish offensively, with the defense still needing to make significant strides. It will be the first time the Falcons are truly comfortable at center since the Todd McClure days, and it should help Falcons fans forget about the failed experiment of second-round draft pick Peter Konz.

Ryan certainly made it clear after the season what he hoped the Falcons would pursue this offseason.

"You never realize how much you rely on those [centers], especially when you have a guy who was as consistent as Todd,’’ Ryan told former teammate Brian Finneran in a season-ending radio interview on 680 the Fan. "[McClure’s] longevity was awesome. He never missed a game.

"Hopefully, we’ll be able to find somebody at that spot that can create that kind of longevity that Todd had because I think it’s a really important position, and critical for the offensive line to have a guy at that spot that runs the show.’’

The Falcons now have that guy in Mack.

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27 minutes ago, theProf said:

Gino Gradkowski not expected to return to Falcons, according to source. We'll see if they go with Mike Person as backup to Alex Mack.

I'd personally like to keep Person on as a rotational guard / fresh legs at the end of a game if he is at all serviceable! If only for a thank you for stepping up to the plate when asked even if he struck out mightily...

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