This unit will likely see a lot of changes down the road, but I’m not sure those changes will come this year. Everyone expects Petrino & Co. to install a new sort of blocking scheme, as opposed to the zone/cut-blocking scheme employed by Alex Gibbs the past three years.
It should allow for the Falcons to be more physical. But I’m not sure a lot of changes will occur, particularly to the starting lineup this year because there is going to have to be a grace period where the players learn and adjust to the changes.
The most likely changes to occur to the starting lineup will likely occur on the left side. The Falcons will have to decide if they want to retain 35-year old left tackle Wayne Gandy. The Falcons could essentially purge his $3.5 million base salaries from their cap by releasing. The concern however is if they can replace him. Frank Omiyale, who was being groomed as the left tackle under Gibbs doesn’t appear to be any closer to being ready. And with the change in scheme, he may in fact be asked to move inside to guard. And the free agent market is rather scarce as far as left tackles are concerned, none of whom appear to be signfiicant upgrades over Gandy. The Falcons could target a left tackle early in the draft, but cutting Gandy would essentially force them to use a pick on such a player in the first two rounds, which could lead to a major reach. INstead, I suspect Gandy will stick around for another year.
At left guard, Matt Lehr probably won’t be back in the starting lineup. I suspect that will be Tyson Clabo’s job to lose. His size makes him a seemingly better fit there as the teams tries to bulk up in the middle. Lehr’s future likely will be as a utility backup that plays both center and guard.
The right side of the line I suspect will remain the same: McClure, Forney, and Weiner. McClure, albeit small, could work fine in the new scheme. The Chiefs center Casey Wiegmann is almost identical to McClure in size and is very effective there due to his ability to pull. McClure moves well, and if utilized in a similar way could find success. Forney and Weiner are our scrappiest blockers, and I suspect they will eventually be able to adjust the easiest to the new scheme.
Lehr could push McClure at the center position. Lehr is a more physical blocker than McClure, but probably lacks McClure’s experience and intelligence in calling out blitzes and blocking assignments that are very important for the center position. Although, with Vick being allowed to audible this season, that responsibility will be less on McClure than it was in the past, which could allow Lehr to unseat him.
As for the rest of the roster, Ojinnaka is the only one that is somewhat interesting to me. The Falcons tried him a bit at left guard last year, and I think he could get some looks there again as well under Petrino. The rest of the unit is filled with zone-blocking guys that I suspect will be purged in a year or two by Petrino and Summers.
The change in scheme will not likely show immediately positive results, but down the road, improvement could occur. Especially if the Falcons focus on securing talent via the draft. I’d like to see the Falcons target at least one free agent guard that could start if Clabo isn’t ready. I’d also like to see the Falcons use the draft to select probably a left tackle and perhaps a center that could be groomed to start down the road. If the Falcons are to rebuild this unit, it will most likely have to be via solid drafting. Why not start now?