Falcons’ draft focus needs to be on offensive line

The Falcons need to do something to improve this crew (left to right: Justin Blalock, Sam Baker, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo).

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff needs to do something to improve this crew in the draft. Left to right: Justin Blalock, Sam Baker, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo. (Curtis Compton)

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

100 comments Add your comment

Big Al

April 19th, 2012
5:11 pm

Need some big uglies!

Ronnie

April 19th, 2012
5:13 pm

The Monger

April 19th, 2012
5:20 pm

Couldnt have said it better myself. Falcons are consistently dominated on both offensive and defensive lines. I have no clue why Dimitroff is satisfied with these mediocre lines. I am a big fan of Vince Manuwai and think if he returns to form, we will have two monster run blocking guards in him and Blaylock. I think Clabo is above average as well. Sam Baker was mediocre to begin with, and now with injuries he is terrible. McClure is 35 and will regress this year. C and LT MUST be the first 2 picks in this draft. I wish we could have gotten Marcus McNeil and we would already have a LT and then we could just focus on C, DL, TE, and Safety.

Scott

April 19th, 2012
5:21 pm

You forgot about Justin Blalock, taken in the 2nd round

Jay

April 19th, 2012
5:24 pm

Great story. Just what I’ve been screaming at my poor television for years.

Falcons drafted Sam Baker over Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice, and Curtis Lofton. At 21st overall, we should have gotten a LOT more from him, even taking into account his injuries.

I dread seeing him in the lineup. Last season, he came in on goal to go and they ran right over him as if he had still been on the sideline. Wish he had been. Wish he were still back at SC. Give me Svitek over Baker ANY day.

Check his wikipedia page under “Professional Career”. Not much there – for a reason.

Sam Baker is a liability. Really interesting to learn he’s Dimitroff’s boy.

lanier

April 19th, 2012
5:24 pm

are you a GM Shultz?

The Monger

April 19th, 2012
5:30 pm

If we get Zebrie Sanders from FSU to play LT at #55 we would have a BIG offensive line, and hopefully could push some defensive lines around. Here is what our line would look like with Sanders

LT- Sanders 6′5 320
LG- Blaylock 6′2 329
C – McClure 6′1 295 (although I would like to see us get a bigger C this draft)
RG- Manuwai 6′2 333
RT- Clabo 6′6 331

now thats some beef, with the exception of McClure. Hawley is 6′3, 301 lbs. The largest Center in this years draft that will still be available when the falcons pick is Phillip Blake 6′2 311 lbs. or Michael Brewster 6′4 312 lbs.

Nativebird

April 19th, 2012
5:33 pm

Spot on, well done, well said, perfect articulation of the underlying reason why this team, this regime hasn’t taken that step to the next level. It ain’t about Julio Jones or Matt Ryan. Or even the top 12 defense they put on the field.

Kyle

April 19th, 2012
5:38 pm

You need a whole team of Scott Case’s but the sad thing is in today’s wimpy NFL (thanks to modern day owners and Commissioners) someone like him who played the game like it should be played would be suspended at best and probably put in jail.

The Nature Boy

April 19th, 2012
5:44 pm

I grew up watching the Noter,Kenn and RC……thanks for the flashback Jeff…not bad…yep the Falcons need to procure an O-Lineman….the falcons don’t have a good enough pick this year to make that happen..IMO…hopefully the players we have will get “coached up”…..

sam

April 19th, 2012
5:47 pm

Totally agree. Fix the offensive line and everything else will take care of itself. Ryan will finally have the time to get the downfield passing game going. Turner can get up momentum without that first hit in the backfield, defense spends less time on the field because the offense controlls the ball longer. And finally we can actually make a 4th and inches!

LawDawg

April 19th, 2012
6:09 pm

Monger: Weight =/= Strength and Toughness

Birrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd Man

April 19th, 2012
6:10 pm

The best big ugly available at #55 is fine with me. However, what if Brandon Boykin is there at #55; do we scarf-up a needed corner and replacement for Weems as a return man? Just sayin’.

The Real Falcon

April 19th, 2012
6:33 pm

There is no value at OL in the 2nd round. Please get off this. Draft a TE to replace Gonzo.

Jeff

April 19th, 2012
6:40 pm

The very last thing we need to draft in 2012 is an OL. We need a RB since it is so heavy to replace a tiring Turner or stay with Defense since we also have troubles at times stopping people!!

willie

April 19th, 2012
6:41 pm

I say go TE unless a stud OL drops, which I doubt.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 19th, 2012
6:46 pm

first 3 picks of this year’s draft should be RB/TE/DB in no particular order. then follow up with OL.don’t remember what round dahl or clabo was picked, but seems to me a 1st round pick at OL doesn’t guarantee anything. it’s all about the coaching!!

1danielbell

April 19th, 2012
6:48 pm

A new line coach and better play calling will help, but yes, definitely bring in some fresh blood too.

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 19th, 2012
7:00 pm

I hope Demi goes against the grain drafting a player without a history of injuries.

Who Me?

April 19th, 2012
7:05 pm

Who knows what the change in coaching staff along the lines will mean in Suwanee this summer but I do expect higher production. Schultz makes a good point but we have other glaring needs as well. Yes, OL is a must but….

Dom

April 19th, 2012
7:23 pm

If there’s a quality OL player there at pick #55 by all means we should take him. But I wouldn’t want to be reaching for a player there just because we feel we need to beef up the OL – that’s how we got Baker in the first place. And this chatter about the Falcons being interested in OT Mitchell Schwartz astounds me, given his short arms and history of back problems makes him sound like Baker 2.0. I’d love someone like Kevin Zeitler to fall to pick #55 but I can’t see it happening. We could still see some FA moves after the draft on the O-line.

Whopper Dawg

April 19th, 2012
7:28 pm

Offensive line would be the obvious choice at 2 and 3.

But I am not hearing that, RB/TD/DT are the projections unbelievably.

If DT doesn’t come through with something this year, Ryan and Spoon are rapidly becoming his only claims to fame.

Greg

April 19th, 2012
7:41 pm

Of course you’re right about the OLO. Our current OL only dominated the weak teams last year. Must. Change. But sorry, Jeff, IMHO you have a HUGE blind spot where TD is concerned. I can’t even count his big mistakes on one hand.

Gerald

April 19th, 2012
8:04 pm

Since the team has to wait until pick #55 they should be thinking about best player available. Sure there are many areas the team needs to address but by locking into one specific position regardless of the talent that is left on the board is a recipe for disaster. Take the best player that fits one of the many areas of need.

ShoNuff

April 19th, 2012
8:08 pm

Sam Baker was just fine his first couple of years. If he stays healthy this year he’ll be fine. Matt Ryan MUST pick up some weight and get stronger so he can throw a much better deep ball and make that push for extra yardage.

Hillbilly D

April 19th, 2012
8:13 pm

This has been a problem for several years. It’s about time they fixed it.

Paddy

April 19th, 2012
8:36 pm

Zebrie Sanders……..wasted top choice but good in the 3rd or 4th round ect. He has also had injury problems.

WeBurn

April 19th, 2012
8:37 pm

How do you forget to mention Justin Blalock, especially when he is in your picture?

FalconJim

April 19th, 2012
8:39 pm

Offensive lineman, more specifically a LT, would be a good pick at #55….but what then? We need a pass rusher, a run-stuffing Guard or NT, and a TE (let’s not forget this is Tony G.’s last year).
Heck, we have 6 picks, and we need TWELVE!!!
And I wouldn’t be surprised to see us take a S or a CB at some point.
Looking forward to the 26th-28th, but with no #1 I’m afraid it’s going to be anti-climactic…

Longtimefan

April 19th, 2012
9:09 pm

Draft the best available OL/DL,TE or defensive back that does not have any history of injury problems.

Larry

April 19th, 2012
9:14 pm

Agreed, Jeff!

TD has built a pristine new home with a fancy decor on a foundation of…wet sand. You build and sustain championship football teams with a rock-solid foundation of OL’s and DL’s. You can decorate it afterward..

Kingdaddy

April 19th, 2012
9:19 pm

TDs lack of vision for the future of this organization, has left us in a deep hole. I think JJ is the real deal, but TD has made a blunder and refuses to admit it. Do we have a problem or not? Who is responsible, A.Blank? Whose job is it to keep this team reloaded? In the game of chess, the best players always plan their moves several moves ahead. TD is not a great GM yet. Maybe he will learn from this and become great. If Ryan doesn’t have time to throw to JJ, then I’d say TD put the cart ahead of the horse …

Birrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd Man

April 19th, 2012
9:21 pm

As long as we leave Nebraska CB’s and anyone from VT out of our draft, we’ll be ok.

tfalcon

April 19th, 2012
9:29 pm

I just dont understand that there is no value in keeping Ryan upright,howis a TE going to put us over the top.Taking a RB in the 2nd or 3rd,TD may just as well cut his throat withg that,This draft is not a really great for TE’s,but lets get us one maybe he can help keep
Ryan on his feet.Oh wait with that TE pick,Tony G can teach him to be the check down man real easy,since nobody can pass protect

JSS

April 19th, 2012
9:42 pm

The gospel according to Hillbilly since 2008! And Dimitroff would not listen!!!!

Hillbilly D

April 19th, 2012
9:47 pm

JSS

Well at least somebody was listening. :lol:

Birrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd Man

April 19th, 2012
10:00 pm

If Cordy Glenn, Orson Charles or Brandon Boykin is there at #55, do we get him?

FalconFreak

April 19th, 2012
10:10 pm

Do something bold like trading Turner or someone like this for a good lineman or 2. I think Turner’s seen his best years and the way he runs now, anyone can do as well if they’re behind a good line, and we’d have the added benefit of having some talent to protect the qb.

Birrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd Man

April 19th, 2012
10:23 pm

Right on, Freak.

Jeff Schultz

April 19th, 2012
10:23 pm

Scott — You’re right. My eye went over Blalock on Falcons’ draft list because they actually listed him as a DL in their draft history guide (he played some DL in college), but team obviously played him at G. So made the fix.

Kingdaddy

April 19th, 2012
10:27 pm

This is like the little Dutch Boy starring at all the gushing holes, asking himself which hole first? Too many holes, not enough fingers and toes. LOL The Falcons are the dike and TD is the little Dutch boy…

JSS

April 19th, 2012
10:32 pm

@ Hillbilly, it is why I’ve never taken them too seriously… It would be different if he (Dimitroff) didn’t have a front row seat to Belichick building and then retooling his lines on the fly during the Super Bowl years; but he continues to draft or acquire any cast-off on the unable to perform list and hope they catch on…It is just darn sad!

Kingdaddy

April 19th, 2012
10:46 pm

Well, basically in this draft we will have to react to what is available when we pick. Why not get the best athlete that comes in at #55, in one of our positions of need? OL—DL—DB Could we pass-up a really good CB for an OL that won’t play for 2/3 years? We need a starter at #55 if possible. If the OL is going to be a project, then get a couple in later rounds. Get the biggest bang for the Buck …

Z-Ro

April 19th, 2012
11:56 pm

Dimitroff catches too much heat for a guy that has NEVER had a losing season they have a plan we choke in the playoffs but the roster is definitely CAPABLE let TD draft and we ROOT

BooBoo

April 20th, 2012
1:08 am

The Falcons need to watch ESPN on draft day and listen to who they say is the “best athelete available” to draft. Then draft that guy and trade him for some position the Falcons need to fill. If it wasn’t for the New York Jets draft record, everyone would realize just how bad the Falcons are at analyzing college players. They traded so much for Julio Jones because they got someone the experts said was a “can’t miss” and after they got Julio, the Falcons could breathe a sigh of relief for not having a boneheaded mistake in the first round this year.

reckingball

April 20th, 2012
2:04 am

I guess you really like Dimitroff, judging from your various writeups, but he has neglected the OLine, and that is a very huge mistake.
If they can somehow improve their OLine the Falcons are very capable of going very deep into the playoffs, maybe even winning the big prize.
Improving the pass rush would be wonderful also.

hbcuclassics

April 20th, 2012
2:55 am

HBCU Classic Sports
2012 Draft Preview:
WR, LaQuinton Evans

http://www.hbcuclassics.com/​hbcu_showcase

falcon60

April 20th, 2012
5:43 am

It may not have stirred a lot of concern among many last year but losing Harvey Dahl to me greatly reduced the lines effectiveness. That shouldn’t have happened. He was the man needed at right guard as there wasn’t anyone that filled his position with the style of play that Dahl brought. Together he and Tyson Clabo formed a very good combination, something the Falcons haven’t had in years if ever. To me, if it were Dimitroff’s fault that Dahl wasn’t resigned, that is the 2nd of very few errors made. The first in my opinion was not drafting Clay Matthews and choosing Peria Jerry instead. But, as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

Mark McClendon

April 20th, 2012
6:53 am

Hasn’t made many mistakes? Sam Baker, Peria Jerry, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, etc. The answer is what has he done well? Sean Weatherspoon is the only real star he has drafted. Dunta Robinson was a stretch and not worth the money. When I look at the Falcon’s roster compared to the Saints, Giants, Eagles, and many others, I have a hard time believing that we have the same amount of money to spend because our overall talent is far below theirs. Worst of all we are five years in and still don’t have a solid line of scrimmage on either side, You won’t win a championship like that.

Jimmy Crack

April 20th, 2012
6:59 am

TD’s thinking has got to be one of these…

1. Best available Offensive lineman, OR

2. Best available Defensive athlete (ANY position).