The Atlanta Falcons' offensive line is sure to face its share of scrutiny in 2014 despite noticeable upgrades made throughout the offseason.
Six-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, an Atlanta native and now an analyst for ESPN, wasn't much of a fan of the Falcons' line prior to free agency and the draft. But Saturday applauded the additions of free-agent right guard Jon Asamoah and especially rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews, now the starting right tackle.
"I think two really good pickups,'' Saturday said. "I think Matthews, just the longevity you're looking at there. When I was looking at film toward the draft, Matthews is a very polished player. He's already ahead of the game.
"When you look at the NFL today, one of the toughest adjustments for players coming from the college level to the pros, because they run so many spread offenses, is that pass protection and being able to sit on that island by yourself. I think [Matthews] has done that and I think he has worked on his craft. Obviously, the bloodlines he's coming from speak to his work ethic. But at the end of the day, he is ready to go in and help contribute.''
Saturday reiterated how impressed he was with Matthews being able to adjust to the spread offense he played under while at Texas A&M alongside Johnny Manziel and how he didn't allow that to hinder his progress.
"When you're talking about a spread offense, it's difficult because you've got running backs running around and you really don't know what your launch point for the quarterback is going to be,'' Saturday explained. "Where your hips are aligned, which way they're facing, all those things are very important. I thought he did a really good job of coming out of his set, keeping his set natural, understanding he was going to set up for Johnny to be in the pocket every time and however it adjusted from there, he would make it happen.''
Saturday also commended the Falcons for starting Matthews at right tackle and not forcing him immediately in at left tackle, with Sam Baker set to resume his left tackle duties coming off a significant knee surgery.
"I think it's a good move,'' Saturday said. "I think you let them play and see how Jake comes along and how Sam plays. I don't think you make any immediate, rash movement. You say it all the time: The best five need to be on the field. If Sam Baker is in your best five, he needs to be in the position he's best at. Then you make Matthews go where he is and have the other guys do the same. That's how you build continuity on the offense line. You build strength and you build confidence in guys. Then it goes to when one guy goes down, they know other guys can jump in. But you start with your best five on the field.''
Right now, the best five are Baker and Matthews at the tackles, Asamoah and Justin Blalock at the guards and Joe Hawley at center. Based on the offseason, it looks like Mike Johnson, Ryan Schraeder and Gabe Carimi are the most capable backups.