Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was hit a career-high 108 times last season, is a big fan of the team’s offseason moves.
After spending $39.7 million in free agency on two experienced linemen, the Falcons drafted two linemen in the first round of the NFL draft, which cost them another $24.9 million.
“It’s always a good thing as a quarterback when they are drafting guys to keep you on your feet,” Ryan said. “They are drafting guys that are going to help the run game.”
It is the biggest rebuild since the Falcons tried, unsuccessfully, the fix the line through the draft in 2013. They are hopeful that right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary will turn out much better than Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes.
To be fair, Lindstrom (14th overall) and McGary (31st) are first-round picks, while Konz (second) and Holmes (third) were later picks.
Both Lindstrom and Gary started the open OTA workout Thursday with the second-team offense.
“I’ve been impressed with both of those guys’ attitude,” Ryan said. “They move really well. It’s been good to see. I’m excited about it.”
Ryan, who turned 34 recently, has a greater appreciation for the men who play in the NFL’s trenches.
“I really believe the longer I play, more and more games are won on the front side of the ball on both sides,” Ryan said. “Offensive and defensive line is (critical). You don’t have a chance if you don’t play well there. I was fired up when they made those moves.”
In addition to the rookies, the Falcons added left guard James Carpenter (four years, $21 million) and right guard Jamon Brown (three years, $18.75 million) in free agency.
“You can see from the way that they set and move off the ball, they are athletic guys for as big as they are,” Ryan said.
Carpenter, 30, a former Alabama standout from Augusta, has started 97 NFL games since he was selected in the first round of the 2011 draft by Seattle. He’s 6-foot-5 and 321 pounds.
Brown, who’ll have to beat out Lindstorm, is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. He’s started 38 NFL games since he was drafted in the third round of the 2015 draft by the Rams.
“They are into it,” Ryan said. “I really love how much they like football. You can tell that from just being around them early on. They both are really into this.”
Ryan is very observant.
“They are asking the right questions,” Ryan said. “They are wanting to get as far ahead as possible before we get to training camp, which I think is a great thing. They fit in well with the group. They are hard workers and good teammates.”
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter also watches the linemen closely.
“Your identity when you really get on the field, has to start with the (offensive) line,” Koetter said.
Offensive line coach Chris Morgan is in charge of on-boarding all of the new players as the team has moved on from left guard Andy Levitre, who later retired, right tackle Ryan Schraeder and left guard Brandon Fusco.
Morgan closely scouted Lindstrom and McGary at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine. He enjoyed interviewing them.
“The urgency of both them,” Morgan said when asked what stood out about the two rookies. “The ‘want to’ of both of them. They’re both smart and athletic kids. They are here to compete. It’s exciting. It’s cool to see.”
The returnees have welcomed the new players.
“I’ve been a lot of places where it was like, ‘I’m not going to let him take my job,’” Morgan said. “It’s kind of stand-offish. Our guys here are really all pulling in the right direction. Really trying to help each other, and that’s good to see.”
Morgan wouldn’t acknowledge if there’s any pressure to get the rookies ready to start the season opener.
“There’s always pressure for everybody, but we don’t talk about it like that,” Morgan said. “They’ll just go this day and try to put it all in (that day). Then come back and do the same thing (the next day)”
If the Falcons open with left tackle Jake Matthews, Carpenter, center Alex Mack, Lindstrom and McGary, they’ll start all first-round draft picks.
Lindstrom will have to beat out Ty Sambrailo, who received a three-year, $14.2 million extension.
McGary received some snaps with the first team at the end of the open OTA.
“You always mix the guys through,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I think it’s important for guys not to know when they are going with that group. We’ll do it with the next person another day. It’s a chance to evaluate as a coach. Put him in with the first group. Here’s your moment.”
There are plans to mix most of the players in with the first-team.
“We want to see how they function in that moment,” Quinn said. “Our job now is to apply as much pressure as we can and find out who can handle what. That’s just an example of how we do that.”
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