Top Questions Facing Dan Quinn - The OL

What will Dan Quinn think about Sam Baker and the other offensive linemen?

The Falcons offensive line has been a revolving door the last two seasons. Injuries and ineffectiveness have made a once-stellar unit very ordinary.

The sack numbers on Matt Ryan have been too high, while the rushing numbers have been too low. And the offensive line is to blame.

So when new Falcons coach Dan Quinn starts his evaluation of his new team next week, what will he think about a unit that could see a lot of turnover?

Quinn will have to rely heavily on the Atlanta front office, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli. However, is that a good thing? Dimitroff drafted many of the players on the offensive line, including those who have not lived up to expectations thus far.

Quinn will hire an offensive line coach. That is one of the positions that has either not been filled yet or the word has not leaked out. But of all of Quinn's hires, this one might be the most important.

It will be the new offensive line coach who must also participate in the evaluation process. Together, these are the people who will determine which players on the offensive line will return in 2015.

The group must first grade the players who saw the majority of starts last season. Here is how the starts break down per position:

RIGHT TACKLE: Ryan Schraeder (9), Lamar Holmes (4) and Gabe Carimi (3)

RIGHT GUARD: Jon Asamoah (15), Gabe Carimi (1)

CENTER: James Stone (9), Joe Hawley (4) and Peter Konz (3)

LEFT GUARD: Justin Blalock (15) and Harland Gunn (1)

LEFT TACKLE: Jake Matthews (15) and Gabe Carimi (1)

So here are some of the questions Quinn and his staff must answer.
1) Is Justin Blalock getting too old? For the first time in his career, Blalock missed some time with injury. He's now 31, so how much time does Blalock have left? Do the Falcons need to develop a player (maybe Ryan Schraeder) as Blalock's heir apparent?

2) Can Sam Baker return? After signing a big contract extension following the 2012 season, Baker has played in only four games in two seasons. He'll be 30 years old in May, so can he come back and can he stay healthy?

3) Did James Stone do well enough at center to take over as the full-time starter? Well, he was an undrafted free agent, but when pushed into service Stone did well. It will be interesting to see what the Falcons feel about Stone's performance.

4) Can Lamar Holmes and Peter Konz develop and get better? Both will be coming off serious injuries, so they'll have to get healthy first. But will the new staff convince Dimitroff to keep two draft picks that have not worked out yet?

5) How good can Jake Matthews be? He was hurt for a majority of the season, so it's hard to fully evaluate Atlanta's first round pick from a year ago. But Matthews showed enough promise that a new offensive line coach will be eager to take him to the next level.

6) Does Ryan Schraeder have the ability to be a starter? He was forced into action due to injuries but seemed to do well particularly late in the season. Does he replace Baker at tackle? Does he get moved to guard and replace Blalock? Or is he simply a backup?

7) Do the Falcons draft another offensive lineman? They may have Iowa's Brandon Scherff on the board when they select in the first round. Are they tempted to take an offensive lineman for a second straight season?

8) Which veterans simply need to be released? Habitually-injured Mike Johnson is the only expected free agent, but the Falcons might add a few more names to the list. Could Baker and Blalock be let go to make room for younger and more-talented players?

This area will be a critical part of the offseason for the new head coach and his coaching staff. The Falcons must address the running game, but the offensive line goes hand-in-hand with helping make the offense more well-rounded in 2015.



Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.


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