Falcons owner Arthur Blank restated the team’s commitment to power football and they took another step in that direction when they reached a two-year deal with Mike Tice to become their offensive line coach, the team confirmed on Wednesday.
The failure of both offensive and defensive lines contributed heavily to the Falcons’ descent from Super Bowl contender to finishing tied for last place in the NFC South. Offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn were terminated along with defensive line coach Ray Hamilton.
“I think that (Smith) is looking for coaches that reflect his intensity,” Blank said. “Smitty is a very thoughtful guy … and feels that when he came to the Falcons in 2008, he was committed to playing a certain brand of (power) football, controlling the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively. To some extent, we’ve gotten away from that for a variety of reasons.
“He wants to recommit himself and recommit the team to that. He felt that the coaching changes would give him an opportunity to do that as well as any appropriate changes (to) the roster.”
Like Smith’s other recent hires, Tice has worked with him in the past. He was assistant head coach/offense on the Jacksonville staff in 2006 and was the assistant head coach/tight ends from 2007-09. Smith was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator until he was named the Falcons head coach in 2008.
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After the 2011 season when Smith was looking for new coordinators, he hired Mike Nolan, who he’d worked with in Baltimore and Dirk Koetter, who was on the staff in Jacksonville.
Tice, 54, who went to Maryland, played in the league as a tight end for Seattle (1981-1988), Washington (1989), Seattle (1990-91) and Minnesota (1992-93, 95) after going undrafted.
He coached with the Vikings as the tight ends coach (1996), the offensive line coach (1997-2001) and served as the interim head coach (2001) before becoming the head coach (2002-2005).
After his Jacksonville stint, Tice was the offensive line coach for the Bears, who struggled in pass protection, in part because of Mike Martz’ passing system. He was the Bears offensive coordinator in 2012 and was terminated when they hired Marc Trestman last January.
Tice has a monumental task to re-shape the Falcons offensive line.
The unit allowed 44 sacks, 100 quarterback hits and allowed quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Dominique Davis to be hurried on 206 plays. On 38.4 percent of the pass attempts last season, the pocket was compromised.
With such a shoddy pocket, Ryan threw a career-high 17 interceptions and had four of them returned for touchdowns. Davis played 12 snaps against Tampa Bay before he was knocked out of the game and Ryan had to return.
The rushing attack was anemic, as it averaged just 77.9 yards per game, last in the NFL.
Center/guard Peter Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes, the central figures in the line rebuild, will have to impress Tice.
Konz, a second-round pick in 2012, gave up six sacks, three hits and 33 hurries, according to profootballfocus.com. Holmes, a third-round pick in 2012, gave up 10 sacks, 13 hits and 53 hurries. Left guard Justin Blalock was the only player with a stable grade in pass protection. The entire unit struggled with run blocking.
Ryan Schraeder, an undrafted rookie from Valdosta State, got some valuable experience late in the season.
Tice was added to whip this unit into shape. A top draft pick and/or strategic free-agent signing or two will add to the competition.
However, Tice’s line have had trouble protecting the passer, too.
In his seven seasons as an offensive line coach, his unit was ranked in the top 10 in sacks allowed three times. In 2010, his Chicago Bears line led the league with 56 sacks. In 2011, his Chicago line gave up 49 sacks, fifth in the league. In 2001, his Minnesota line gave up 47 sacks, which ranked seventh in the league.
In 1998, Tice had his best pass-protecting unit with Minnesota. They gave up 25 sacks and ranked 25th in the league.
As a head coach he went 32-33 and was 1-1 in the playoffs.
He was once fined by the league for his role in a Super Bowl ticket scalping operation.