FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons are getting close to settling on the five pieces that will make up their offensive line for the 2015 season. On a conference call Sunday, head coach Dan Quinn announced three of the five spots had been solidified.
Ryan Schraeder and Jake Matthews won their tackle spots; Schraeder on the right and Matthews the protector of Matt Ryan’s blind side on the left. Chris Chester came out on top for the Falcons’ right guard position. But there are still three competitors for the two other spots.
“We're getting close to getting there,” said Quinn. “Still we're working Joe Hawley at center and then at [left] guard [James] Stone and [Mike] Person are into that battle. … A little bit of movement on the inside, but we're anticipating Hawley, Person and Stone being the guys we're locking into at the left guard [and] center spots.”
Hawley and Stone started Atlanta’s two preseason games at center and left guard, respectively. Person came in as a backup both times at left guard, but played more snaps with the reserves than Hawley and Stone played with the first team.
All three played clean games against Tennessee in Atlanta’s first preseason game, according to Pro Football Focus. Hawley allowed a quarterback hurry against the Jets on Friday, and Stone gave up a sack. Person, for the second consecutive game, didn’t give up a quarterback pressure. He was also the highest rated offensive lineman on the Falcons’ roster against the Jets.
During training camp, Stone and Person both took reps with the first team at guard and all three took first-team reps at center. That cross-training could play into Atlanta’s plans moving forward as Hawley continues to get back to normal after offseason knee surgery.
As the battle for those two interior spots continues, the entire offensive line (including the backup units) must step up to improve as the Falcons transition to a zone blocking scheme. Quinn said Sunday that he wouldn’t call himself “happy” about the progress the line has made during camp and two preseason games. He said the line missed blocks on both the backside and the front against the Jets.
“More often it's a sign of how often can everybody be connected for this system to be at its best,” said Quinn. “Those reps, that timing -- that's what we're going through right now to keep working to prove it. But we're still a work in progress and nowhere near what we'll be once we keep working through this.”
While Atlanta’s quarterbacks have been protected well for the most part, the Falcons’ run game has been abysmal. Running backs averaged 2.2 yards per carry against the Titans and 1.5 yards per versus the Jets. Of 53 carries in the two games combined, only seven (13.2 percent) have gone for five yards or greater.
The top two running backs for Atlanta (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman) haven’t been on the field yet during preseason action. When they’re healthy, the Falcons should be more potent on the ground. But for Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme to work in Atlanta, the offensive line will have to dramatically improve its run-blocking technique.
Falcons' OL still a work in progress
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