- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Tom Thayer knows a thing or two about offensive line play.
The Chicago Bears play-by-play analyst was the starting right guard on the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl champion team. And Thayer’s brother-in-law is John Scully, who played on the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line for nine seasons.
So naturally, Thayer has strong opinions when it comes to offensive line play. He watched new Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice perform the same role for the Bears during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
"The toughest rooms on a team better be the offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s what I think Tice brings to the room,’’ Thayer said. "He brings structure, all levels of success with his background of being a quarterback then a tight end then an offensive lineman-type of guy. He brings a lot to the package. He brings a great a deal of experience. His years in the NFC North/Central or whatever you want to call it is good for the Atlanta Falcons.’’
Tice coached with the Minnesota Vikings from 1996-2005, starting as the tight ends coach and then serving as the team’s head coach from 2002-05. Although he had a Hall of Fame lineman on his team in Randall McDaniel, he only took credit for developing Pro Bowl linemen Jeff Christy, Matt Birk, Todd Steussie, and Korey Stringer while in Minnesota.
In Chicago, Tice’s offensive line contributed to surrendering a league-high 56 sacks in 2010 and followed with 49 sacks allowed the next season (tied for fifth most). But as Thayer saw it, Tice did the best with what he had plus was handcuffed by then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s complex offense.
"You look at the offensive line that the Bears have the year after Tice leaves and there’s no one still there (except ex-Falcon Roberto Garza),’’ Thayer said. "That tells me that he was trying to hold together duct tape, masking tape-talent with an archaic-style offense. It was going to be really hard to succeed given the talent. I think in some terms, the Bears are probably fortunate that they had him at such a moment of weaknesses, personnel-wise.’’
In Chicago, Tice had two first-round flops in Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams and two seventh-round picks as starters in Lance Louis and J’Marcus Webb. None of the four are still with the team, although Louis grew tremendously under Tice before suffering an ACL tear.
On paper, Tice doesn’t have much to work with in Atlanta, either, after the line contributed to quarterback Matt Ryan being sacked a career-high 44 times and contributed to the running game ranking last in the league this past season. But the Falcons seem destined to upgrade at least a few spots along the line, with Justin Blalock and Sam Baker -- if healthy -- likely the only players assured roles in 2014.
Whatever group Tice has to work with, Thayer expects him to make a difference.
"When you play for a guy who has played, he kind of tells you different positions to be in before you ever experience them because that’s how the play is going to kind of work its way out,’’ Thayer explained. "As you come out of your stance to pull, you know what you’re looking for with your first step rather than waiting to get there. It’s all those types of things that he can reiterate to these guys because he's seen them 1,000 times from a stance. That’s the good part of Mike.’’
Plus Tice's ability to instill toughness can’t be overstated.
"You’ve got be edgy,’’ Thayer said. "Tell me what great player doesn’t live on the edge? Mike kind of brings that Type-A personality to the room, which you really need.
"(Mike) Ditka always used to say, `It’s not a right to play in the NFL; it’s a privilege.’ And I think that’s a part of living on the edge. Every guy who lives on the edge, ultimately they want to succeed. And that’s why a guy like Mike Tice lives on the edge.’’
3dDan Graziano and Adam Caplan