Two years ago the Falcons had an offensive line that had Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes as the tackles, Garrett Reynolds and Justin Blalock at guard and Peter Konz at center.
By the end of that 2013 season, only Blalock remained in the original position as injuries decimated the line. Only Holmes remains now, and he's hurt and no timetable is even known for his return.
Then last year, the starting offensive line in week one was Holmes and rookie Jake Matthews at tackle, with Blalock and free agent signee Jon Asamoah at guard and Joe Hawley at center.
By the end of the 2014 season, injuries to Hawley and Holmes caused more changes - not to mention the injury to Baker in preseason that ended his career with the Falcons.
More changes are on the way for this season. Of the nine linemen who will suit up in week one next Monday night, six are brand new players and three were actually brought in the last week.
There's a new head coach (Dan Quinn), a new offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) and a new zone blocking scheme being used for the offensive line. With those type of changes, perhaps it's not a surprise that this much turnover has happened.
Stability is needed, however, but with the new faces this is still an area of concern and a huge question mark on this team.
Protecting the franchise, quarterback Matt Ryan, is the biggest key for the entire season. If Ryan goes down with an injury, especially due to a breakdown on the line of scrimmage, people will again ask why the Falcons have continued to try and put a Band-Aid on a position for several years.
With the surprise release Monday of Hawley, there will be a new center and no one quite knows which direction the team will go to start the season. James Stone started the last nine games at the position last year after Hawley's injury, so he could step right in. Also, the team claimed Gino Gradkowski off waivers from the Broncos Monday. He was scheduled to be the starter at center for Denver, but he was beaten out in training camp.
Gradkowski has experience in the zone blocking scheme, so he might be the eventual starter. But is it realistic for him to step right in and start in week one?
The two guard spots will have new starters, as Blalock was released and Asamoah lost his starting spot in the new scheme. Chris Chester has experience in the zone blocking scheme, and he worked with Shanahan in Washington. Andy Levitre, a bust in Tennessee after signing a big free agent contract, will start at left guard. He's started every game the past six years, so he does bring experience to the line. Levitre also has experience in the zone blocking scheme.
The tackles could not have come from different backgrounds. Jake Matthews was the sixth pick in the 2014 draft, while Ryan Schraeder was an undrafted free agent from Valdosta State the season before. Matthews has to stay healthy after being forced into action as the left tackle a bit earlier than expected last season. Schraeder has become a favorite of the coaches as he fits into the new scheme very well.
Along with Stone, the backups will include Mike Person, Tyler Polumbus and Bryce Harris. Person can play both center and guard and before the trade for Levitre was a possible starter at guard. Like Chester, Polumbus played for Shanahan in Washington. He is more of a solid run blocker on the outside. Harris can also play both tackle spots.
Give the Falcons credit. The offensive line was embarrassing in the week three preseason game in Miami. So they traded for Levitre and claimed Harris and Gradkowski off waivers to hopefully find upgrades. But is it just another patchwork job, or can this group jell in time to create a solid line of scrimmage?
With all the changes, in both style and personnel, this will be an area to watch early on this season. There is versatility in the players to make changes if necessary, but the Falcons must find some players to protect Ryan if they are to have a successful 2015 season.
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 email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 - Roster Analysis - The OL
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