A lot has been made this off-season about the Atlanta Falcons practically standing pat on what was a poorly performing offensive line from 2011. During the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, that “new” offensive line will be put to the test by a perennially elite defense, with a brand new addition.
The Ravens drafted linebacker Courtney Upshaw out of Alabama in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he’s going to be in the spotlight almost immediately with the loss of Baltimore’s all-time sack leader, Terrell Suggs.
Suggs tore his achilles tendon during the off-season in a basketball game…or a conditioning workout…depending on which side of the story you believe. In any case, he’s out until at least November, and possibly the entire season.
Upshaw is expected to be a force on defense, but the idea probably was to give him a season to get acclimated to life in the NFL. Obviously not to be the case now.
So now in this game, you’ll have a match-up of two entities with high expectations.
It’s not clear yet whether the Ravens intend to use Upshaw as they did Suggs, as a kind of hybrid linebacker/defensive end, but with Upshaw’s pass rushing ability it may not matter whether he lines up with one hand on the ground or not.
Upshaw recorded 8.5 sacks in 13 games with the Crimson Tide last season.
The Falcons offensive line is close to a reflection of last year’s line at the moment. Rookie Peter Konz is turning heads at camp, and already looks like a polished NFL player in many respects. He is expected to, and should, win the right guard spot. But the area where Atlanta showed tremendous weakness last season – left tackle – is going to be filled with familiar faces.
Veteran Sam Baker is once again being given the opportunity to show that he’s worthy of the first-round draft pick that Atlanta took in 2008. If Baker continues with his sub-par play, and string of back problems that he’s shown in his first four seasons, then the options at left tackle are very limited.
Backup at left tackle, Will Svitek, is serviceable at best, but is not going to be able to hold back the likes of Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and the aforementioned Mr. Upshaw. The other offensive lineman the Falcons drafted in 2012, Lamar Holmes, has already been bitten with the injury bug, and is still in need of some fundamentals work.
Grizzled veteran center Todd McClure is going to have to be the anchor on the offensive line for a 13th season, and should his body give out on him, then OT/C Joe Hawley will be forced to step in.
In other words, the Falcons couldn’t have picked a better (or worse) opponent to test out the soundness of their revamped(?) offensive line.
During the first quarter, I’d look for the Ravens to blitz early and often to not only test out their new toy Upshaw, but also to see what kind of pass rush they can generate without Suggs.
It could be a long first few series for the Falcons’ starters on that offensive line.