VIDEO: Falcons veteran center Alex Mack discusses his NFL career. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.

Alex Mack elated about Falcons’ return to the outside-zone scheme 

Falcons center Alex Mack, a six-time Pro Bowl player, is relishing the team’s return to the outside-zone running scheme. 

The Falcons have dabbled in running outside-zone plays over the past three seasons since former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco, but during a video call with the local media Thursday, Mack confirmed the offseason plans. 

“I think it’s an emphasis of the whole offense to make sure that’s something that we want to be really good at,” Mack said. “So, in order to run the wide zone, you have to have a full commitment of all of the guys on the field to make that work. It is a really powerful offense. It’s something that we have a lot of experience with.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan battled with Shanahan in his first season in 2015, but they smoothed things out by 2016, and Ryan became the first Falcons player to win the Associated Press MVP award and carried the team to Super Bowl LI with a potent attack. 

“The better we can run that, the more it opens up the field, the more play-action opens up,” Mack said. “Having that weapon really opens up the offense. I know it’s something that I’m excited about. I like hearing that because it means we get to run the ball more. It means we have more play-action passes. 

“In general, it’s something that I do well. I think if we can get that going, we’ll have a very powerful offense.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has mentioned running more outside-zone a couple of times over the offseason, while offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was vague when he was asked about the outside-zone attack.

Mack believes that adding running back Todd Gurley will help the offense return to being one of the top units in the NFL. 

“He’s a really good runner,” Mack said. “I’ve just seen his clips and what he’s been able to do. His first couple of years in the league (were) impressive. Adding that to a wide-zone attack, I think he can be a really good addition to the offense and then a real powerful weapon.”

If the Falcons are more powerful running the ball, that will help them in pass protection. The Falcons’ offensive line gave up 50 sacks and 135 quarterback hits in 2019. 

In addition to having trouble running the ball, the Falcons were behind in several games and forced to pass. If they can run the ball better in the outside zone system, that will keep the opposing defenses off balance. 

Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews are the stalwarts on the line. There will be an open competition at left guard, while right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary are expected to make big jumps in their second seasons in the league. 

“Chris is going to be a really good player,” Mack said. “I know he works very hard and he’s mentally tied into things. He has pretty good vision on the field.

“Those things are going to take you a really long way. You add that with his physical ability for how quick and strong that he is, he could be as good as he wants to be. He’s got the work ethic to take him there.”

Lindstrom missed 10 games last season with a broken foot he suffered in the season opener. 

“If he stays healthy, he’s on the field and he’s learning every day, he’s going to be a good player for a really long time,” Mack said.    

The Falcons drafted Matt Hennessy, who played center at Temple, possibly as Mack’s heir apparent. 

Mack, 34, is set to enter his 12th season in the league.

“They drafted a lineman,” Mack said. “He seems like a great kid. Excited to have him on board and teach him everything that I can. I think he steps up and plays guard this year or he’s the swing guy, backup center or whatever the future is.”

So far, Hennessy is fitting into the virtual offseason. 

“I know I’m happy to have a guy who’s excited to be here,” Mack said. “Who’s really tied in, in meetings. He knows what is going on. It’s really good to have him here and see that he’s excited to be here.”

Mack has a year left on his contract.

“I’m taking it year-by-year, now,” Mack said. “I know my goal when I showed up in the league was (to play) 10 years. I thought that was a really good, lengthy career. From here on out, I want to do the best I can to make sure I play at the highest level. Play one year at a time. I think I’ve got a lot of juice in the tank. I’m ready to bring it this year.”

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