FLOWERY BRANCH – It’s believed that Chuck Bednarik went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the mutant dinosaur division, with Godzilla and Monster Zero, largely because of words like these: “You get into that sort of cannibalistic feeling. All you want to do is go out there and, like I say, kill somebody. I’m going to get him. I’m going to kill ‘em. Not like you are going to put them into the ground after, but you just want to kill a guy.”
Bednarik was a two-way player with Philadelphia in the 1960s. He is 86 now, which is I suppose eliminates the possibility of any comeback with the Falcons. But there were a few times last season when he might’ve been an improvement on the team’s offensive line.
Thomas Dimitroff’s fifth draft as Falcons general manager is next week. If the focus isn’t on improving the wall of linemen in front of Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, something is seriously wrong.
For all of the X’s and O’s, football still is a game where success hinges on your ability to knock the other guy down. The Falcons often have come up short in that area — in pass protection, in short-yardage situations, in tight, physical games, and certainly in the playoffs.
Dimitroff hasn’t made a lot of mistakes as the Falcons’ general manager. He’s the biggest reason the team has gone 43-21 with three playoff appearances in the past four regular seasons, an unprecedented run of success, at least before the postseason. But one area of the team that hasn’t significantly improved is the offensive line, which stems in part from the struggles of left tackle Sam Baker, a first-round draft pick in 2008.
Dimitroff continues to defend Baker. He accurately notes that Baker’s effectiveness has been limited because of injuries (back and elbow). He never expected Baker to be Anthony Munoz, even if healthy, and he felt compelled to move up in the draft to take him only because there was a run on offensive linemen. It all might be easier to overlook if Ryan didn’t keep winding up on his back and Turner wasn’t getting stuffed every time coach Mike Smith feels like scratching that fourth-and-1 itch.
Is it all Baker’s fault? No. He’s just the highest-profile question mark on the line because of where he was taken and the fact he protects Ryan’s blindside. But for an organization that once boasted a line with Jeff Van Note, Mike Kenn and R.C. Thielemann, the front has been almost an afterthought in the draft lately. In the past 18 drafts, the Falcons have taken one offensive lineman in the first round (Baker), three in the second (Justin Blalock, Travis Claridge, Bob Hallen) and two in the third (Mike Johnson, Alai Kalaniuvalu).
Forget drafting a Pro Bowler — Kalaniuvalu didn’t even make it out of camp.
Center Todd McClure easily was the most effective and consistent member of the Falcons’ line last season, but he’s 35.
“Offensive lines, you’re going to have years that are up and years that are down and challenging, and we obviously had a challenging year,” Dimitroff said. “[But] we feel we have a good core of offensive linemen.”
Sorry. The Falcons can be good at times, even very good. But too often they don’t leave you with the impression that they can physically dominate an opponent. I’m just not sensing, “… but you just want to kill a guy.”
Ryan was sacked only 26 times last season. But the Falcons’ line allowed 84 “quarterback hits,” which is a better gauge as to how often Ryan threw under duress. The 84 hits ranked as the seventh-most in the league, behind six non-playoff teams.
As for the short-yardage situations, Dimitroff said: “It was challenging and agitating at times.”
His signing of free-agent guard Vince Manuwai didn’t stir the masses. Manuwai comes with no guarantees — he didn’t even play last season. So that leaves the draft.
Dimitroff doesn’t have a first-rounder to play with next week because of the Julio Jones trade, and there’s no reason to expect draft-day pyrotechnics.
“Suffice to say we won’t be messing up any draft parties this year,” he said.
Fireworks aren’t necessary. The Falcons just need a guy who can keep their quarterback clean and move the pile. And if he sounds like a raving lunatic, all the better.
By Jeff Schultz