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Falcons’ Jake Matthews quarantining Texas-style

Tackle Jake Matthews (left) and center Alex Mack stretch out during minicamp. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Tackle Jake Matthews (left) and center Alex Mack stretch out during minicamp. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Before moving forward, the Falcons had to review what happened to the offensive line last season.

“This first week we’ve been having our virtual meetings and going through our film and everything,” left tackle Jake Matthews said Thursday on a video conference call from his home near Houston. “Going over last year’s stuff.”

Last season, the Falcons’ offensive line, which was trying to integrate two rookies, never came together. They entered the season with five first-round draft picks starting on the offensive line. That group of preferred starters on the offensive line played together for only 45 of 1,189 offense snaps (3.7%).

The run-game numbers and pass-protection numbers were horrid.

The Falcons were stuffed – for a loss or no gain -- on 21% of their 362 running plays, which ranked 27th in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.

The line gave up 50 sacks and 135 quarterback hits. The offensive linemen, who received Big Green Egg smokers from quarterback Matt Ryan after the 2017 season, probably didn’t get a nice gift after 2019.

Matthews, who’s set to enter his seventh season and has played in 100 NFL games, knows the unit must improve in 2020.

“Man, I’m such a perfectionist that there’s always some stuff that I want to get better at,” said Matthews, who made the Pro Bowl after the 2018 season. “I want to be able to run the ball better as an offensive line. I think that is just going to come with time with younger guys, learning how to play with each other.”

Promising right guard Chris Lindstrom suffered a broken foot in the season opener. He came back to play in the final four games. Rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary was raw, and it showed at times.

“There are a lot of things I want improve on, as a group we can improve on,” Matthews said. “But I know that we’ve got all of the right pieces to make that happen.”

In the NFL draft, the Falcons added guard/center Matt Hennessy, who was selected in the third round, to the offensive line. He’ll compete to start at left guard, and if he wins the competition, he’ll play next to Matthews.

“I’m excited,” Matthews said. “Our guys do a really good job of bringing in good talent. I’m excited to work with him.”

Hennessy’s main competition will come from nine-year veteran James Carpenter.

“Just within this last week we just started talking to each other,” Matthews said. “We obviously haven’t met in person with this whole thing going on. I’m excited to get back in person and get on the field and work with (Hennessey). He’s very talented. I’m glad that he’s here.”

Matthews believes running back Todd Gurley, who signed in free agency, could help improve the rushing attack.

“My cousin (former Rams linebacker) Clay (Matthews) told me he is a great dude and player and that I should be really excited that he’s on our team,” Matthews said. “He’s proven that he’s a stud. I’m fired up to block for him and hopefully make him look good.”

Matthews knows having continuity is the key to a successful line.

“Having a group together, especially like that 2016 (Super Bowl season) ... I don’t think any of us missed a snap, really for the most part, and that was some of our best football,” Matthews said. “As an offensive line, that’s when you are going to do some of your best work, when you are that comfortable with each other.”

They’ll have to try to bond as best they can over digital platforms during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously, this isn’t the preferred way we would want to do it,” Matthews said. “But I think the coaches, this first few weeks back, this virtual program, I’m really surprised with how well it’s going.”

Matthews said he’s adapting to the virtual meetings.

“Once we get out there, we have to take advantage of it,” Matthews said. “Obviously, take advantage of what we can do at this time while still being safe.”

Matthews, who has a gym in his house, said he’s been following the same workout plan that he’s implemented in past offseasons. When he does go out on the field, he goes with his Hall of Fame father, Bruce Matthews.

His father helps him with techniques and puts him through a workout at the end of the sessions.

“I love doing that,” Jake Matthews said. “My favorite part of that is picking his brain.”

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