When the Falcons hired Dan Quinn as head coach, against the backdrop of 22 losses and too many exploding game plans and body parts the past two seasons, nobody expected things to remain status quo. Failure mandates change because, as the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, and Flowery Branch already was Cuckoo’s Nest central.
But what makes the Falcons’ roster metamorphosis unique, if not unsettling, is that change wasn’t limited to April or May or June or July or August or … wait, when does the season start?
They claimed a center off of waivers Monday. They claimed a tackle off of waivers Tuesday. They traded for a guard Friday.
They will play their opening game Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles (who may or may not be great, but are a rare road favorite in Week 1). The Falcons have an offensive line that has changed four starters since the end of the season and will include a left guard (Andy Levitre) who washed out as a free agent in Tennessee and was traded; a center (Mike Person) who is with his fifth team since 2011, has never played an NFL game at center and has never started a game, period; and a right guard (Chris Chester) who was signed in late May.
Also, free-agent tackle Jake Long will work out for them again this week. He is coming off two ACL surgeries.
Welcome to Flowery Branch: land of opportunity.
Roddy White spotted me in the locker room Tuesday and sensed skepticism (I don’t hide it well).
“What’s your prediction?” he asked.
“Nine wins? Are you kidding me?”
(Sports columnist thought bubble: “Hah! He’s fallen into my trap.”)
Me: “So what’s your prediction?”
Me: “I said nine wins. That gets you in. Nine wins would’ve won the division last year.”
Him: “It’s going to take at least 10 or 11 to win it this year. We need 11 to win it.”
Me: “So that’s your prediction?”
Him: “The tournament. That’s what I’m predicting — the tournament.”
I agree, I think: The Falcons will make the playoffs. But that’s contingent on getting through the first three games — Philadelphia at home; New York Giants and Dallas on the road — without going 0-3, and Matt Ryan not getting pancaked on the highway.
Quinn was correct in mandating change on the offensive line, which has ranked among the NFL’s worst. But to make so many changes so late is disconcerting. Offensive lines operate as a unit more than any other area on the team. The center position rare stirs bar-stool debates, but it’s no coincidence that the Falcons’ offensive line took a significant deep a few years ago when management told center Todd McClure his services were no longer wanted (so he retired retirement).
General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith mistakenly believed second-round pick Peter Konz was ready to take over, but Konz couldn’t win a job at center or guard and recently reached an injury settlement. Now, very late in the game, they’ve decided incumbent starting center Joe Hawley wasn’t good and/or healthy enough so they cut him, leading to Person’s unexpected promotion.
The Falcons can win this season with just an average line protecting Matt Ryan and blocking for Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. The question is whether they can even be average. Left tackle Jake Matthews is in his second season and has battled injuries. Left guard Levitre lost his starting job in Tennessee. Person has been a backup guard and special-teams player. Chester, in his 10th season, is the most solid vet in the bunch. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder started all last season after making the team as an undrafted free agent out of Valdsota State.
Two backups (for now) were claimed on waivers — tackle Bryce Harris on Sunday and center Gino Gradkowski on Monday.
Quinn said he expected change. But this late?
“I anticipate that, every chance we get, to address things,” he said. “Is it uncomfortable at times? Yeah. But at the end of it, it’s the right thing to do — to keep challenging, to see how good we can get.
“I’m not surprised that we have some opportunities.”
Quinn said he’s a “glass half-full guy.” If Ryan stays upright and there’s some semblance of a pass rush, the new coach’s optimism will be supported.
But so many late moves suggest there is some scrambling going on. Or to use the buzzword in Flowery Branch, there are endless “opportunities.”
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