What Can We Expect from Falcons' Offensive Line with Mike Tice in the Fold?

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What Can We Expect from Falcons' Offensive Line with Mike Tice in the Fold?
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Mike Tice is the Atlanta Falcons new offensive line coach. His job is to fix arguably the worst all-around offensive line in the NFL.

If he can do that, Tice could not only have a long stay in Atlanta, but he could help quarterback Matt Ryan stay upright enough to have a career year.

Even more than that, an offensive line would allow Atlanta to improve from what is currently one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. This would help take the pressure off of Ryan and relieve the passing game from having to carry the offense. 

In breaking down just how bad the Falcons offensive line was in 2013, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave the unit the third-worst pass blocking grade at minus-40.1 and eleventh-worst run blocking grade at minus-41. Cumulatively, it was the second-worst offensive line in the NFL. The only group worse was that of the Arizona Cardinals.

So how does Atlanta address this huge need? The biggest questions about the Falcons hiring of Tice relate to how much talent can be cultivated him, which offensive linemen will be most impacted by his arrival and whether or not Tice is even the man for the job.

 

Brian Blanco/Associated Press

Does Atlanta have enough talent for Tice to work with?

In a word, no.

They don't have enough talent for Tice...yet. 

There are some solid players to start with in Sam Baker, Justin Blalock and Lamar Holmes. They should attempt to re-sign Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson for competition and depth. Peter Konz also has some natural talent. Nonetheless, the Falcons likely have—at most—three legitimate starters from this group.

Obviously, the Falcons front office needs to add more talent to the six already listed. It needs to go after a starting-caliber right guard as well as someone who could compete with Baker at left tackle. Ideally, they just sign a star left tackle and improve the line as a whole.

With a star left tackle, Baker gets moved and is forced to compete for other jobs on the line; he could potentially start at either center or right tackle. Holmes would compete for a more natural right tackle role and allow Johnson, Konz and Hawley to compete for the center and right guard spots.

Overall, the Falcons just need to make sure they have some starting-caliber talent on the roster for Tice to work with. Otherwise, no amount of coaching will make the unit good enough to help the Falcons turn around their 4-12 record from 2013.

 

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Who's careers are on the line?

Gambling on Tice to turn around the offensive line around could be the best move that Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith have ever made. If Tice revitalizes the line, the Falcons could be Super Bowl caliber again.

That's what Arthur Blank wants more than anything else at this point. Going into year seven of the Comrade-Smitty era, the Falcons have had their best six-year stretch in team history. They have gone 60-36 in the regular season over the past six years.

Nonetheless, four playoff berths, five winning seasons and one quick turnaround won't be enough to save Dimitroff and Smith if they can't reverse last year's collapse. And the key to such a reversal is the offensive line and what Tice does with the talent there.

 

M. SPENCER GREEN/Associated Press

Can Tice make it a great unit?

Tice is exactly what the Falcons need as an offensive line coach. They needed someone who could breathe toughness into the group. They needed someone who understands how to get the most out of a group that has some natural talent with which to work.

They need someone who can make their first-, second- and third-round picks play like first-, second- and third-round picks. If anyone can teach the technique and toughness to a group that lacked both in 2013, it's Tice

Tice was the man who was responsible for the late 1990s and early 2000s Minnesota Vikings offensive line that featured multiple Pro Bowl players Korey Stringer, Todd Steussie, Randall McDaniel, Jeff Christy and Matt Birk. He has a reputation for being able to draw the best out of the linemen he coaches.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen Who Played Under Mike Tice
Position Name Pro Bowls Years
OG Randall McDaniel 3 1997, 1998, 1999
C Matt Birk 4 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004
C Jeff Christy 2 1998, 1999
OT Korey Stringer 1 2000
OT Todd Steussie 2 1997, 1998

Pro Football Reference

Even the terrible group of talent he had to work with in Chicago showed better production than what the Falcons did in 2013. Tice would have more talent in Atlanta to work with—especially after an offseason of changes—provided everyone stays healthy.

The Falcons needed to make a wholesale change to their offensive line. Bringing aboard an offensive line coach who preaches the nastiness needed for run-blocking as well as the technique needed for effective pass-blocking was the right thing to do.

And they get exactly that in Mike Tice.

 

All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld.

Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.

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