Mike Tice has challenge, and he knows it

Mike Tice took over as offensive line coach this season.
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Mike Tice took over as offensive line coach this season.

FLOWERY BRANCH — The first time Mike Tice sat down to watch film of the Falcons’ offensive line, he did so without a roll of Tums. Big mistake.

“We needed to finish (blocks) better,” he said.

And.

“You need to finish if you’re going to have any type of toughness or any kind of attitude.”

And.

“The schemes were not the way I was used to coaching.”

And.

“Consistency was not there.”

Was anything good?

“No. That’s why I have an easy job. If I can just make it a little better, then everybody will think I know what the hell I’m doing. Then I’ve got them all fooled.”

The Falcons’ new offensive line coach has a good sense of humor. He’ll need it. Tice inherited one of the NFL’s worst units: last in rushing, close enough to last in sacks and quarterback assaults allowed. He also lost his starting left tackle, Sam Baker (again), in the second exhibition game. The Falcons play seven games against teams that finished in the top 10 in sacks a year ago, and it wasn’t great foreshadowing that they seemed to have no clue on how to block Jadeveon Clowney Saturday.

“A freak,” Tice said of Clowney. “I need one of those for Christmas.”

Yeah. Ship sailed on that one. The Falcons needed help on both lines but determined keeping quarterback Matt Ryan lucid and his major organs intact had to be the first priority in the draft. So they took tackle Jake Matthews, who, because of Baker’s exit, will move from right to left tackle, which generally is not what NFL coaches like to do with a rookie. It also could mean starting the still struggling Lamar Holmes at right tackle.

Tice is the fourth offensive line coach hired by Mike Smith. The previous three were fired. As career moves go, this position hasn’t been a steppingstone, it’s been quicksand.

There’s no guarantee Tice can end that trend. But he at least seems to understand the problems he inherited and he seems to have the attention of his players, which wasn’t the case last year. Tice is a screamer, which doesn’t put him in exclusive company for offensive line coaches. But he actually does some teaching after the screaming, which sets him apart from last year’s line coaches, Pat Hill and Paul Dunn.

"He can have his moments, especially if you do something boneheaded," guard Justin Blalock said of Tice. "The thing he is good with is figuring out why whatever happened happened — getting to the root of the problem, making an adjustment. You might get MF'd on the spot. But after the initial 30 seconds, we'll figure out what's going on, what made you do that, what confused you and how we can make you a more productive player."

So that element wasn’t there before?

“We might now always be so proactive in changing things,” Blalock responded.

Tice is straight forward and in your face. It’s not difficult to figure out why. He played high school football in Central Islip, N.Y., for George O’Leary. (“He’s a pleasant sort, huh.”) His NFL coaches have included such non-nonsense guys as Chuck Knox and Joe Bugel. It’s a style that worked for him as a player.

“I’m from New York and I tend to say what I feel like saying,” he said. “I don’t have to go to bed at night and figure out what the hell I lied to someone about.”

He says he doesn’t scream nearly as much as he used to, adding, “The only time I scream is when a guy makes the same mistake multiple times. That either tells me he’s not paying attention or he doesn’t give a (expletive).”

Tice said the Falcons’ line last season lacked cohesion, attitude and toughness. “Toughness isn’t getting into the fights out on the field like we’ve been doing,” he said. “Toughness is how you finish. You block him all the way through the echo of the whistle. That’s toughness. Not going out and starting a fight every three plays.”

When Tice had his first film session with lineman during OTAs, he chose not to show them clips from last season. Instead, he showed Chicago Bears highlights from last season, where he coached. He reasoned showing the right way to do things, not the mistakes, was an easier path to success.

Said Blalock, “He said, ‘This is what we do. I’m not concerned with what you all did before or how you were taught. We’re moving forward.’”