No rookie has opened the season as starter on the Falcons’ offensive line since Jake Matthews in 2014.
Matthews, who was selected sixth overall that year, started at left tackle after Sam Baker was lost for the season in an exhibition game. Baker eventually retired.
On the HBO show “Hard Knocks,” then offensive line coach Mike Tice told Matthews at halftime that he’d be the starting left tackle.
Matthews will play a role in helping right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary, who were both selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, 14th and 29th overall, get ready for the season.
“Man, that rookie year, I feel like I’m a completely different person,” Matthews told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “Rookie year is such a blur. You don’t really know what you are getting into. By the time that you think you are starting to figure it out, you go, ‘oh man, the season is over.’”
Matthews, 27, who went to the Pro Bowl last season, has started to mentor the rookies.
“I guess the biggest thing I’d say to them, even if you’re right or wrong on a decision, just go all out,” Matthews said. “They’ve been doing a good job of taking coaching. Not getting down on themselves if they do something wrong. All of the guys in the room have been doing a good job of coaching them.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn is counting on Matthews’ help.
“If you could go back, what would you tell your rookie self?” Quinn said. “In other words, for Jake, what would I tell myself four or five years into it. So, they have to put themselves back into that space.”
The rookies have done a strong job getting acclimated to the Falcons’ style of play.
“I think more than anything, it’s about establishing a routine first,” Quinn said. “How do you practice. How do you get your mindset together. What’s your routine to get ready to go practice? If you can get those things in, you don’t have to look too far down the line.”
Quinn concurs with Matthews’ over-reaching theme of playing fast.
“More than anything, what do you need to know to really play well,” Quinn said. “You want to remind yourself to sprint off the ball. Sometimes, the over-thinking can slow somebody down. Is this guy not as fast as we thought or is he over-thinking?”
Quarterback Matt Ryan and center Alex Mack have spoken highly of the rookies. However, Mack noted that they have not practiced in pads yet.
“With these young guys you are trying to make sure that they figure it out and what the routine looks like,” Matthews said. “I thought we came out and worked hard this offseason.”
Lindstrom appears to have a clear path to the starting lineup at right guard. He’ll have to beat out veteran Jamon Brown, while McGary will have to beat out Ty Sambrailo to land the right-tackle spot.
The Falcons also signed veteran James Carpenter, who’s been lining up at left guard next to Matthews.
“This year, you can tell that it’s a special group,” Matthews said. “We have a lot of potential to do a lot of really good things.”
Matthews also has been impressed with the rookies.
“They are really talented, too,” Matthews said. “It’s about building that camaraderie, that trust. Like I say all of the time, all five us have to be one unit.”
Matthews doesn’t mind sharing information with the rookies.
“We are prepping them for what it’s going to take because we brought them here for a reason,” Matthews said. “We are going to need them. I’m excited for them. I’m excited about having them around.”
The classroom part of the job has gone well.
“They are both very willing to learn,” Matthews said. “No one has come in with a big head or anything. I think they are going to be really good teammates for us. You can tell they have a lot of talent.”
Matthews played his rookie season under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who’s returned to his old position.
“I’m super excited about coach Koetter being here,” Matthews said. “I think the biggest thing is just getting back to playing free. Getting after it and not over-thinking things.”
Matthews knows the real battles will start in training camp, with the first practice set for July 22.
“At this point, it’s just a matter of finding who’s going to be the front five and then going out there and playing together, making some quick decisions together and getting after it like we always try to do,” Matthews said.
As for the Pro Bowl, Matthews wants to go back.
“It was a special thing,” Matthews said. “It was something that I wanted. I was very happy and I feel very blessed about it. It was cool. Especially, seeing guys and meeting guys that you’ve seen on film for a long time and you have a lot of respect for.
“Plus it was fun have (Falcons center) Alex (Mack) and (Falcons tight end Austin) Hooper there, too. We were hanging out. We had a lot of fun. Good time for sure.”
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