FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan believes the unit can be much improved after a strong 2015 season.
Morgan, who was assisted by Keith Carter, made the rushing attack more potent after ranking 24th in the NFL while averaging 93.6 yards per game in 2014. The Falcons averaged 100.4 yards per game and were ranked 19th in the league.
The offensive line, which gave up 32 sacks and 89 quarterback hits, paved the way for running back Devonta Freeman to rush for 1,056 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
The likely starting line heading into to training camp will feature left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Andy Levitre, center Alex Mack, right guard Mike Person or Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder.
The Falcons drafted Wes Schweizter, a developmental interior player, in the sixth round (195th overall).
They re-signed veteran tackle Bryce Harris and added Tom Compton in free agency.
Morgan was pleased with the offseason work.
“They worked really hard to develop their style of play," Morgan said. "The standard that those guys created and set. It’s fun. They have a clear vision of what they want to be.”
Mack was signed in free agency to a five-year, $47.5 million contract. He’s expected to add some moxie to the line.
“Alex brings a lot of experience,” Morgan said. “He’s played a lot of ball. He brings toughness. He’s a really smart and vocal guy.”
Levitre has to eliminate his penalties. He led the team with 11 penalties that led to eight stalled drives.
Levitre had five holding penalties, four false starts, one illegal block above the waist and one unnecessary roughness on the league’s official penalty report.
“I can definitely be a bigger part of that, you know what I mean and help with that,” Morgan said. “But Andy played his (butt) off last year. But that’s something that all of us can improve on, not just Andy.”
Schraeder had six penalties and Matthews had four.
The Falcons tried to sign J.R. Sweezy in free agency to play right guard, but the bidding escalated to five-year, $32.5 million deal from Tampa Bay. Person, who started at center last season, must beat out Chester at right guard.
“There will always be competition,” Morgan said. “There are some guys competing. It’s a cool deal. There is a cool mix of competition.
“We are looking at everybody. Mike’s done a good job over there. Chester has played. Tom Compton has (practiced) over there. Wes Schweitzer has (practiced) over there. It’s not just those guys either. We are going to play the best five for sure. It’s always about the competition.”
Schweitzer received some first-team practice snaps in the mandatory minicamp. They were impressed with his offseason flexibility.
“We don’t have the pads on yet, but he’s shown some really good toughness,” Morgan said. “We’ve moved him around early. He’s played left guard. He’s played right guard. He’s played center. He’s never done that before. He’s shown that nothing is too big for him right now."
Morgan believes with the addition of Mack and continued improvement, the offensive line could make some major strides in 2016.
“You know, we have to continue to grow,” Morgan said. “Continue to develop a style of play. We should have a better understanding in Year Two.”
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 79 Shabaz Ahmed
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 69 Jake Reed
RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 MikePerson, 64 Collin Rahrig, Michael Huey
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris, 66 Laurence Gibson
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