The major questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle position center on their pair of starters: left tackle Sam Baker and right tackle Jake Matthews.
Those questions mainly are whether Baker can rebound after a 2013 season depleted by injuries and poor play, and whether Matthews can make an impact as a rookie. And those questions won’t get answered until the regular season, regardless how this summer turns out.
As for the first question about Baker, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism. In six years in Atlanta, Baker has managed to stay fully healthy for two seasons (2010 and 2012) and only in the latter year did he perform at a high enough level to merit distinction.
If there is reason for hope, it is that Baker’s performance against Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy in Week 9 was good, especially relative to his three appearances at the outset of 2013.
The hope is that in 2014, Baker can potentially string 16 starts together similar to his performance against Carolina. Otherwise, his future will be limited in Atlanta due to the presence of Matthews on the other side.
There’s little doubt the Falcons envision Matthews as the long-term blindside protector for quarterback Matt Ryan. The son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake has the potential to be a long-term fixture. If his career is just half as successful as his father’s, then fans can expect Matthews to play a decade in Atlanta.
Questions surround Sam Baker’s future
The issue the Atlanta Falcons face in terms of their offensive tackle position isn’t necessarily about whether certain players will return, but rather what roles they might return in.
Although some had the foresight to question it, it’s become abundantly clear in hindsight that the contract the Falcons gave left tackle Sam Baker last March was a bad one. The team is faced with the scenario of paying him an option bonus which likely will lock him to being a Falcon for the next two seasons. While it’s possible the Falcons could decide to get out of the contract, it does not appear that is their plans, likely due to the significant cap penalties they would face over the next year or two. So it seems that Baker will return next season and open up the offseason as a starter. The only real question is whether that will be playing left tackle or another position.
It’s likely that Baker will man the left tackle position once again in 2014. But it’s possible that dependent on what moves the Falcons make this offseason, he could be switching positions. Baker’s brief stint at right guard did not go well in 2011, making a possible switch to right tackle more doubtful. If that happens, then it will be due to the Falcons spending on a free agent or using a high pick on another left tackle. The latter seems more plausible of the two scenarios, since it’s doubtful the Falcons are willing to dole out another large contract that it would take to entice such a free agent to Atlanta given their investment in Baker. And drafting a tackle will depend on whether or not the Falcons like the premier prospects at the top of the draft, whether they are on the board on May 8, and if the Falcons can shore up other needs across the roster in free agency. All of which are unknown quantities to date, making it doubtful that is planned path moving forward.
Today, the Atlanta Falcons announced a pair of roster moves, including promoting offensive tackle Terren Jones from their practice squad to the active roster. The team also waived wide receiver Brian Robiskie.
Jones, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama State, initially made the team’s final 53-man active roster, but was released and added to the practice when the team signed Jeremy Trueblood in September prior to the season-opener. Jones had an occasionally up, but mostly down preseason.
Robiskie was added to the roster following the season-ending injury to wide receiver Julio Jones, and after playing in Week 7, he was inactive for the past five games.
The Falcons announced a few roster moves earlier today
, signing offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Trueblood replaces Terren Jones, who was waived by the team. The team also released guard Phillipkeith Manley, who was on the practice squad, with an injury settlement. It is likely that Jones will be replace Manley there if/when he clears waivers tomorrow.
Trueblood originally entered the NFL as a second round pick in 2006 out of Boston College. He would start 61 games at right tackle over the next four seasons. He would start the first six games of the 2010 season, but a knee injury forced him out of the lineup and he would lose the job to James Lee. However he did get one more start at the end of the season when Lee himself was out with injury. Trueblood would regain the starting position in 2011 after re-signing with the Bucs following the lockout, starting 15 games that year. But his subpar play coupled with an early-season ankle injury cost him his starting spot in 2012 where he only appeared in 9 games, his only start coming in the season opener. He was signed by the Washington Redskins this past off-season where he was expected to compete for a backup spot with Tony Pashos and Tom Compton this summer. Compton won and Trueblood was cut this last week. He will likely be considered insurance at right tackle after a shaky preseason for starter Lamar Holmes.
Trueblood also worked briefly at right guard for the Bucs last season when injuries required them to shuffle around their lineup following the injury to Carl Nicks, adding some depth and versatility.
Jones did not have a great preseason and thus his retention on the team’s 53-man roster was a mild surprise. He was dubbed more in line with practice squad talent and likely will get that opportunity moving forward. Manley also came off as less than stellar in the preseason, after spending his rookie season in 2012 on the team’s practice squad and subsequently the roster in the second half of the season. He was surpassed by both Harland Gunn and Jacques McClendon at the backup guard positions this summer. Gunn made the Falcons roster, but McClendon was waived and claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Manley’s injury was not disclosed.