NFL & Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons searching for starting five up front

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Mix and match. What’s typically a process for clothes shopping has become the catch phrase at Atlanta Falcons camp as the coaching staff looks for the best possible combination of players along the offensive line.

Pull a camisole off this rack, match it with slacks from another. Take James Stone and put him at left guard. Match him with Joe Hawley at center and Chris Chester at right guard. But Atlanta’s options don’t end there. Mike Person has to be observed, as does Jon Asamoah.

Finding the right combination along the interior of the offensive line happens to be of utmost importance to the Falcons this season. And it’s far more difficult that trying to remember not to wear white after Labor Day.

Through the first week of training camp, when the Falcons sent five offensive linemen out to run with the first team, there was little semblance of normal. New head coach Dan Quinn opened camp with the idea that positions up front along the line were open competitions. As the Falcons transitioned to Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking offense, Atlanta had to find the right five players to both protect franchise quarterback Matt Ryan and also open holes in an entirely different scheme.

Atlanta was looking for traits like fast, physical and versatile.

“I think when those opportunities come and the versatility is there, those guys can play guard and center, play tackle and guard,” Quinn said. “The value that you now have for the team is huge. When those opportunities come up, the standard doesn’t change, the next guy is in and we go about it.”

Into the second week however -- and in preparations for Atlanta’s first preseason game Friday -- the Falcons have settled in on five players who might just enter the season as the starting offensive line.

Jake Matthews and Ryan Shraeder have spent the past three days as the starting tackles. They’re initially joined by Stone, Hawley and Chester.

There’s still mixing and matching as the practice sessions roll on, but this group of guys has been the first front to take the field with regularity now.

“We’re good with Chester, and we moved him into that role, and Stone, some at the guard, he’s looked good with Person and Hawley back-and-forth at center,” Quinn said. “But Chris is one that’s really jumped out to us, in terms of the quickness, the balance. We always knew that Mike could be a swing guy between guard and center, so we’re trying to do that. Then Schraeder and Matthews at tackle, that’s kind of staying in trend. There’s still a lot going on with the inside three, but Chester is certainly one that has jumped out at us.”

There happens to be one name left out from that list: Asamoah.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s falling behind,” Quinn said. “I think the battle is still wide open for him. Jon’s a terrific competitor inside, so he had it for a while, Chester’s up there awhile. We’ve also moved guys from left guard to right guard, who can play inside as well. He’s somebody we’re totally counting on as well as Jon.”

Whether Asamoah actually has been moved down the depth chart, or the coaching staff happens to be trying to motivate someone, remains to be seen. Leading into Atlanta’s game against Tennessee on Friday, Quinn said many different combinations would be used in the team’s first real action against another NFL team.

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