It's all on the line for the Falcons

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:50
PM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith met the media Monday, they were careful not to single out any individual for the team's 4-12 implosion.

In fact, Smith said the responsibility "solely goes on me" in terms of not fulfilling expectations.

However, both Smith and Dimitroff made it clear how significant not winning the line of scrimmage was in terms of the team's demise. So it was no surprise when the Falcons parted ways with offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn as well as defensive line coach Ray Hamilton Monday evening.

The Falcons sorely need to get better up front, and adding better linemen is just one step in the process. Dimitroff said he has no desire to be a finesse team, so the Falcons need to find line coaches capable of bring out the "nastiness'' in the team's offensive and defensive linemen.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
AP Photo/Scott BoehmMike Tice has worked with Falcons coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter before.
With so much coaching turnover on "Black Monday'' there are sure to be plenty of options available. And at least one free-agent coach is interested in bringing his expertise to Atlanta.

Former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice, who was last the offensive coordinator in Chicago but took a year off from coaching, has a strong desire to work with the Falcons offensive line, a source told ESPN.com. Tice didn't have much success as a coordinator, but he did show plenty of passion while tutoring a below-average Bears' offensive line.

Not to mention Tice worked with both Smith and Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in Jacksonville, so there is some familiarity.

However the Falcons proceed, they need to spend every ounce of their offseason energy trying to improve every aspect of their line play, on both sides.

Dimitroff was asked specifically what went wrong with the offensive line this past season, as quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times and the running game ranked dead last in rushing yards per game.

"I believe where things went awry offensive line-wise is more the missed assessment on the readiness of this offensive line to play together as a unit,'' Dimitroff said. "I thought over and over how I could summarize that, and that's what I came up with.

"I think individually, we have some players that are developing along the offensive line that, we think, have upside. Some were challenged more than others this year. Some played, at times, well, other times, struggled. And we're going to do all in our power to make sure that we correct that at many levels.''

Dimitroff went on to talk about future acquisitions and the coaches doing a better job developing players -- somewhat foreshadowing the coaching changes. Although Dimitroff sounded somewhat hesitant about breaking tradition and addressing offensive line needs with spending spree in free agency, he didn't rule out making such a move. Some of the names expected to be available include Branden Albert, Michael Oher, and Anthony Collins, to name a few.

Plus the Falcons hold the No. 6 pick in the draft, so the belief is they'll look to fill a void on either the offensive or defensive line. Speculation has focused on South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, if either remains available and if the Falcons keep their current spot in the order.

But based on Dimitroff's assessment, targeting a pass-rusher would take priority over drafting another first-round offensive lineman. Since 2008, the Falcons have spent a first-round pick (Sam Baker), a second-round pick (Peter Konz) and two third-round picks (Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes) on offensive linemen.

"That's been our approach because we believe that you do not necessarily have to go extremely high in the draft to acquire, because that's a position where you're going to continue to develop your football players,'' Dimitroff said of offensive line prospects.

"We're not going to second guess or question what we've done from an offensive line standpoint. We do believe that we have talent along the offensive line that will continue to develop. With that, they need to continue to develop on their own as well as with our coaching staff encouraging them and pushing them to be the best that they can be. That's important for us.''

The general theme here is clearly evident: It's all on the line for the Falcons.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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