One of the primary offseason projects for the Falcons is to try to construct a better passing pocket for quarterback Matt Ryan.
The primary area of concern in the interior of the offensive line. The Falcons’ tackles, Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, are solid.
Last season, Adam Levitre started at left guard, Mike Person, Gino Gradkowski and James Stone all made starts at center, and Chris Chester started all 16 games at right guard.
Chester, 33, is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
“All in all, I thought they did a solid job and will continue to improve and evolve,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.
The Falcons expect Ryan to improve next season, his second in a new system.
“Sometimes when a new coach comes in and you’re still part of the same program, it can almost be like being traded to the same city,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “New faces, new scheme, new ideas, new culture to some degree, so I think any time that he’s been in it a year, he has done the things that he does really well in it.
“How can we tweak it to make it better? That’s where we are at. I think naturally there are some things going from Year 1 to Year 2 that you can improve upon, and I’m fully anticipating that.”
In addition to Ryan’s improvement, the interior of the passing pocket must be firm.
At the NFL scouting combine, the Falcons are looking at some of the top interior line prospects. LSU’s Vadal Alexander, who played tackle in college, projects to be a guard in the NFL, and Notre Dame’s Nick Martin, are two of the top NFL guard prospects.
The Falcons have the 17th pick in the draft. The team has only five picks after trading their sixth-round pick to Tennessee for Levitre. The Falcons lost their fifth-round pick in the “noisegate” scandal.
Alexander believes that he can help at tackle or guard.
“I feel like I can play either,” Alexander said. “I love the tackle position. I’ve played it most of my life, so I’m open to playing tackle or guard. I train as a tackle, and … knowing my physical play, I know I can always kick inside.”
Alexander played left guard for the Tigers during his sophomore and junior seasons. Alexander, who was a load at LSU, hopes to get down to the 315-pound range.
Alexander, who played at Buford High, might be too big to play in the Falcons’ outside zone blocking, but his size and athletic ability is intriguing.
“We do a lot of zone blocking at LSU,” Alexander said. “We’re big on the mid-zone/wide-zone tackle run plays. I’m very comfortable with it.”
He was part of the line that paved the way for running back Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.
Alexander believes that playing in the SEC helped to prepare him for the NFL. He’s faces some good pass rushers and aggressive defensive tackles.
“Myles Garrett (of Texas A&M) was really good; his get-off was phenomenal,” Alexander said. “Robert Nkemdiche (of Mississippi), his get-off was very good. Jonathan Bullard from Florida was a very good pass rusher. We had a lot of good guys.”
Martin is the younger brother of Cowboys All-Pro guard Zach Martin. He played guard and center for the Fighting Irish.
The Falcons had problems snapping the ball, and Martin is a proficient snapper.
“We were all (shotgun),” Martin said. “I was able to do some (under-center) snaps at the Senior Bowl. It worked out fine. It wasn’t a big adjustment.”
Martin believes he can play in the Falcons’ scheme.
“We still ran inside zone, outside zone, gap schemes,” Martin said. “So when it comes down to it, it’s still football.”
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