When you have an upper echelon rushing attack going for three years straight, the offensive line deserves just as much, if not more, credit than the running back. This is certainly true of the Falcons' linemen, who have been the glue that has held our offense together under Mike Smith.
Projected Depth Chart:
1. Sam Baker
2. Will Svitek
1. Justin Blalock
2. Jose Valdez
1. Todd McClure
2. Joe Hawley
1. Mike Johnson
2. Andrew Jackson
1. Tyson Clabo
2. Garrett Reynolds
Departures: With free agency still in standby mode, the Falcons currently have three starters on the O-line that could potentially all walk during free agency: Clabo, Dahl, and Blalock. With several recent draft picks eagerly awaiting their chance to earn a starting spot on the line, don't expect the Falcons to keep all three.
Clabo is coming off of a Pro Bowl year at right tackle, and is currently the best guy on the line, so he will likely stay. Dahl, who's developed a reputation as a bruising run blocker, has been a solid force along the O-line for a few years now. However, even though he's a carry over from the previous regime, Blalock has been a chronically underrated lineman for the Falcons, and could most likely be kept at a cheaper price. That leaves Dahl as the man I expect to walk this offseason.
New Arrivals: The only new addition thus far is sixth round pick OG Andrew Jackson out of Fresno State. Known to be a guy with a mean streak similar to Dahl, he'll give the Falcons some great depth at guard and could potentially start down the road.
Outlook: Although potential new free agency rules have left matter up in the air for the time being, the offensive line will likely stay relatively intact.
Sam Baker will once again lead the way at left tackle. While the 2008 first-round pick hasn't been spectacular, he has still been an above average blindside blocker for Matt Ryan. Look for him to stick around.
Also returning is longtime center Todd McClure, who is likely in his last season with the Falcons. He's already up there in years, and with 2010 fourth-round pick Joe Hawley most likely taking over the starting role in 2012, expect the Falcons to wish him well on what has been a great NFL career.
If my predictions hold true and Dahl does indeed walk, expect 2010 third-round selection Mike Johnson to take over the spot at right guard. Johnson is versatile lineman, so although he did not play RG in college, he has the capability to play wherever the Falcons will need him to in 2011.
The O-line will be further bolstered by the likes of Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds, and Jose Valdez. Valdez, who spent his time on the practice squad all of last season, is possibly the most interesting because he was predicted to start at right tackle by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC. A 6'6, 324 offensive tackle out of Arkansas, he also has the versatility to play both tackle and guard, and will provide great depth along the entire line.
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