Falcons > Baker’s Release Shows New Direction for O-Line

| June 17, 2015

Falcons Football

ATLANTA — Fans attending the Atlanta Falcons’ open minicamp over the next three days won’t get the pleasure of seeing Round 3 of the bout between super heavyweight Sam Baker and cruiserweight Jonathan Massaquoi.

Remember, Baker and Massaquoi got into a couple of shoving matches during the first two days of last year’s minicamp. Now, Massaquoi is a member of the Tennessee Titans, while Baker hit the unemployment line Monday after being released.

Baker, one of two first-round draft picks in 2008 after franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, never recovered from major surgeries on both knees the past two seasons. He apparently passed his physical, however, before the Falcons cut ties.

Baker’s departure continued the offensive line’s dramatic face-lift from a year ago. Last June, former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice was in the midst of constructing a starting line that consisted of Baker at left tackle, veteran Justin Blalock at left guard, Joe Hawley at center, top free agent Jon Asamoah at right guard and rookie Jake Matthews at right tackle. Injuries eventually led to Tice using five different starting line combinations through the season.

The complexion of the line figured to change under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who brought with him an outside-zone blocking scheme. Shanahan said from the beginning he wanted linemen capable of getting out and running. Such a philosophy led to the release of the slow-footed Blalock, who announced his retirement on Monday. Baker, although athletic, obviously wasn’t viewed as valuable enough coming off those injuries. And the scheme might not be the best fit for Asamoah, although he is a savvy veteran who should find a way to adjust.

Once the Falcons take the field for their Week 1 Monday night matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, expect the line to consist of Matthews at left tackle, newcomer Chris Chester at left guard, Hawley at center, Asamoah at right guard and fast-rising Ryan Schraeder at right tackle.

Hawley, who continues to recover from last year’s ACL and MCL tears in his knee, will not participate in full-team drills during minicamp starting Tuesday. The same is likely to hold true for Matthews, who had January surgery to repair a Lisfranc ligament tear in his foot.

So when spectators check out minicamp, they’re likely to see Lamar Holmes at left tackle, second-year player James Stone at center and possibly newcomer Mike Person at left guard if Asamoah is still hobbled by an ankle injury and replaced by Chester.

The Falcons are sure to keep a close eye on the waiver wires to see if there are any players available to help upgrade the line. More than anything, they need Matthews back at full strength. He’s the key figure in the equation and has to play stellar in order for the line to thrive. He is the anchor, the former sixth overall pick. And the Falcons already have seen four first-round draft picks fail to produce due to injury or ineffectiveness over the past eight seasons. Those four — Peria Jerry, Sean Weatherspoon, Jamaal Anderson and Baker — are no longer with the team.


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