O-Line Coming Together

Losing four out of five starters over the course of two years on the offensive line is never easy, and when they were each Pro Bowlers it gets even harder. But offensive line/assistant head coach Mike Tice and his players are showing signs of jelling.

Assistant head coach/offensive line Mike Tice is still trying to find the right combination and get the most consistency out of what he has to work with after essentially losing four Pro Bowl players over the past two years.

"We had a good group for a long time that did a good job for us," head coach Dennis Green said. "Then we lost Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy and we still had the other three guys. Then, of course, we tragically lost Korey (Stringer) and Todd Steussie. So in some ways the guys that are coming back are Matt Birk and David Dixon. We have confidence in them. We have to be realistic in where we think our guys are going to be and how quickly they can get there. We think by the time it's all said and done we're going to be standing real good with a fine offensive line."

Despite their struggles, there have been some signs of encouragement. To this point, there's no single player who is "the weakest link."

"Linemen will have bad plays," Tice said. "The problem we've had is that too many are having bad plays at the same time. Are we as good a line as last year? No. As good as in '98? No. But we're good enough to win games."

Tice is a master at developing linemen. The problem might be that he simply has too many to develop at once.

Right tackle Chris Liwienski was on the practice squad two years ago. Last season, he rotated with Corbin Lacina at left guard. This season he was slated to start at left guard. But the death of Stringer suddenly forced him in at right tackle.

He is becoming more and more comfortable there, however. In fact, after Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, Liwienski has consistently graded out as the second-best lineman on the team and has earned praise from John Madden during recent telecasts, especially for his run blocking.

"Chris is playing winning football," Tice said.

Recent addition Calvin Collins may also push for some playing time at left guard along with Corbin Lacina (who's nursing an ankle injury) and Everett Lindsay.

"I think that he's picked it (the offense) up real well," Green said about Collins. "He's looked good in practice — very powerful, outstanding run blocker, good punch, very smart, versatile. He can play center and guard."

His best success with Atlanta was when he started at left guard.

When Lacina is healthy, Lindsay can also spell left tackle Brad Badger. But Badger put together one of his best games ever when he shut down Green Bay's pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila to zero tackles and more importantly zero sacks in their recent matchup.

Lewis Kelly also shows a lot of promise and has taken more reps with the first team in practice of late.

It will take some time, but don't be surprised if Tice eventually molds this group into an upper echelon offensive line once again.

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