“As an offensive lineman, being consistent and someone everyone can count on is something I take a lot of pride in. It’s something I want to continue to improve at. It comes with experience. I’m in Year 7 now for me, and I learned over time.”
Matthews has seen the highs and lows that come with the NFL. After his rookie season, his coach, Mike Smith, was fired. During his third season in 2016, the Falcons reached the Super Bowl. The past two seasons have not gone as well, with the Falcons ending both with 7-9 records.
Throughout it at all, Matthews’ presence has been a relief for the team, considering the ever-important position of left tackle has not been a worrisome spot for the Falcons’ front office and coaching staff. Matthews also has been durable, having missed only one game -- during his rookie season -- in his career.
Following the 2018 season, Matthews was named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate and filled in for Trent Williams.
“‘Jake the Snake,’ he’s always working,” Smith said. “He treats every opportunity on the field as a game rep and an opportunity to get better and prepare himself for Sundays. You see it on the field, and his preparation doesn’t lie. When you see behind the scenes how he prepares it makes so much more sense why he’s so good.”
Matthews has played under Falcons coach Dan Quinn for the past four seasons, with Quinn noting how intricate the veteran left tackle is with each fundamental at practice.
“I would say the consistency of him has just been remarkable,” Quinn said. “He’s really detailed in his approach. He’s a pro’s pro in almost every way. Now, he’ll have a new player or alongside him sometimes at tight end (Hayden Hurst), with Todd (Gurley) and the combination blocks that they do, but just his presence – that’s a big deal. The way he’s able to push it amongst his teammates, he certainly garners a lot of respect from everybody around here.”
Matthews is one of four definite starters -- the others being center Alex Mack, right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary -- returning from a 2019 offensive line that had its share of struggles. The Falcons ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing at 85.1 yards per game and allowed 50 total sacks in 2019. Although last season’s offensive line dealt with a slew of injuries, particularly at left and right guard, Matthews believes a lot of the errors that occurred were self-inflicted.
Assuming the unit as a whole can experience better luck with its health, Matthews believes the group should fare better in 2020.
“If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot or have unnecessary penalties, we’re a really good offense and hard to beat,” Matthews said. “I think we’ve already started the emphasis this week of staying on track and sticking to the plan. When we do that, we have a lot of success. I think we showed that in the second half of last season in a lot of spots. Really it’s just keep building on that.”
Matthews noted that Lindstrom and McGary look improved on the right side of the line, which has been a storyline for this team all offseason. But a development just as important is how the left side will perform this season. For most of training camp, Matthews has worked alongside rookie Matt Hennessy at left guard, with the two gaining chemistry and experience together.
However, Hennessy has missed the past four practices with a knee injury, although Quinn said the ailment is minor. If Hennessy is unable to play in the Falcons’ season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 13, James Carpenter, last year’s starter at left guard, will get the nod.
While Hennessy hasn’t practiced this week, Matthews said he’s built a strong rapport with him through the preseason.
“I can remember coming in as a rookie,” Matthews said. “Stuff is happening so fast, it’s hard to communicate and get stuff out there. What I’ve noticed is he’s grown so much. He’s making calls, and he’s more confident. That’s been really impressive to see.
“He’s got a ton of talent, that’s obvious. Just to continue to get more reps with him and build his confidence in the offense with what he’s doing, I think he’s going to be a really good player. He’s been very impressive to watch, grow and improve.”
Last year, the Falcons had only two returning starters on the offensive line, Matthews and Mack. With the experience returning, and with potentially only one newcomer joining the starting lineup, Matthews likes the line’s makeup entering the season.
“As a group, especially on the offensive line, we’ve grown so much,” Matthews said. “Just coming that far and feeling more together and comfortable with each other, it feels good. I feel we’re in a really good spot. I’m excited for next week and preparing for the real deal.”