Falcons assistant Dwayne Ledford elated to return in larger role

FLOWERY BRANCH — After former coach Arthur Smith was fired, that left members of his staff in coaching limbo.

The good work of offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford had been recognized NFL-wide, and the Giants wanted to interview him. The Falcons blocked the request to make sure that Ledford would be available to the new coach.

After Raheem Morris was named the new coach, Ledford was retained and named the run-game coordinator/offensive line.

“No (it wasn’t clear from the outset),” Ledford said. “It definitely was not. It was nerve-wracking.”

Transitions can be tough.

“The players, they felt it, too,” Ledford said. “My guys, we’ve got a close relationship. It’s something that, you kind of know. … Whoever was going to be the next head coach would have that decision.”

Ledford, who has a group text with his players, was happy to share the news that he was staying.

“I told my guys that I’m thankful for (them) because the way (they played) is the reason that I’ve got the opportunity to stay here and be with (them),” Ledford said. “It was a special moment when I got to tell those guys I was going to be (on the staff).”

Under Ledford’s tutelage, the Falcons went from having the 31st running attack (85.4 yards per game) in 2021 to third in 2022 (159.9 yards per game). Last season, the Falcons finished ranked ninth in rushing per game at 127 yards per game.

Morris named Ledford as the run-game coordinator to help maintain that part of the offense for new offensive coordinator Zac Robinson, who’ll be charged with getting the passing attack moving.

“I’m excited about it,” Ledford said about being named run-game coordinator. “Just the opportunity, first and foremost, just being back here, to be here with this organization, get to coach the men that I get to coach. I’m very thankful for that. Just excited that we get to build on those things now. We’re ready to hit the ground running.”

Ledford’s unit cobbled together a good season despite several injuries. Backups Storm Norton, Ryan Neuzil, Tyler Vrabel and Kyle Hinton all had to step in at some point over the course of the season.

While run-blocking was their calling card, the pass blocking still needs improvement. They had a sack per pass attempt of 7.55%, which ranked 20th in the league. The offensive line allowed 42 sacks.

Left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Matthew Bergeron, center Drew Dalman, right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary are all under contract for next season.

“They absolutely do (fit how Morris wants to play),” Ledford said. “I’m excited because during this whole process, getting to hear Raheem and Zac talk about what it is they are looking for, the type of style and stuff like that, when I’m hearing it, I’m like you’re describing these guys. This is who these guys are. I knew that it was going to be an opportunity where this could work out well. I got excited about it. I know the guys are excited and everything as well.”

Bergeron, who started all 17 games, was taken in the second round of the draft out of Syracuse. He was an opening-game starter and played 1,129 offensive snaps (100%).

“I was very happy to see Bergeron throughout the season because I thought that he got better each week,” Ledford said. “He played a lot of snaps for us. He played a lot and went against some really good guys. Some great competition for year one.”

Ledford had to get off the group text for a while.

“Everybody is spread out right now,” Ledford said. “I made a lot of phone calls. We all started our group text. We’ll get together soon. It’s a special group of guys.”

The Falcons have used an outside-zone blocking system under Ledford. The Rams shifted to a gap/power blocking system last season.

“That will be something where some really good conversations (happen over) these next couple of weeks,” Ledford said. “When we get in there and start dissecting things, talking as a group. All of us get in there and then you start formulating, this is what it’s going to look like going forward ... it will start taking form.”

Ledford is looking forward to evaluating the offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“That’s always an important piece of it,” Ledford said. “Just to start to try to get to know these guys that are in the draft. “

The Bow Tie Chronicles