FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says he's not too concerned about the recent struggles of his offensive line.
Koetter believes Atlanta, which visits Baltimore for a preseason game on Thursday, still has enough time to settle on a starting right tackle and decide who fills backup jobs before the season opener Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
Those moves will help determine if quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, running back Steven Jackson and receivers Julio Jones have the time and space needed to push the offense.
"We have a lot of good players on offense," Koetter said. "When we get everybody firing on the same cylinders, we're going to be tough to beat."
Atlanta went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC title game last season in large part because Ryan and his receivers were tough to stop.
Ryan, Gonzalez and Jones were invited to the Pro Bowl, and White became only the fifth NFL receiver with at least three straight 90-catch, 1,200-yard seasons.
Playmakers, though, can only do so much if the line isn't built to last, but Koetter promises the Falcons will make the necessary adjustments once they start game-planning for the Saints.
"You're trying to exploit our good matchups and trying to give help to the guys who need help," Koetter said. "We have a whole bunch of different ways where we give certain guys help from week to week. That will never change."
Atlanta's offensive line is still in flux with the right tackle job still an open competition and Peter Konz a first-year starting center.
Losing Mike Johnson last week to a season-ending ankle injury has thrust Lamar Holmes and undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder into an open competition for the right tackle job.
Perhaps last week's preseason loss against Cincinnati wasn't terribly alarming. The Falcons are still essentially replacing Todd McClure, who retired after 13 years as starting center, and right tackle Tyson Clabo, who was released to clear salary cap space.
"There's going to be change every year in the NFL," Koetter said. "We've got some new guys at some new positions. We're moving some guys around. The Mike Johnson injury triggers some moves, but you couldn't ask for a harder working group of guys. For the new guys, these preseason games are just invaluable experience."
Offensive line coach Pat Hill is mixing and matching personnel to help Koetter and head coach Mike Smith decide which nine players will make the 53-man roster and which seven will be active on game day.
Four of the starting jobs are set with Konz, left guard Justin Blalock, left tackle Sam Baker and right guard Garrett Reynolds. Whoever loses the right tackle competition will back up that spot and Baker's spot.
There's also the need to build a unified line, a sum of moving parts that works as one.
"You have to make split-second decisions, there's got to be proper calls and everyone's got to be on the same page," Hill said. "We're getting better working together as a group, but we keep shifting guys in and out moving guys to different positions. I think that's going to help us down the road."
Hill says his young players are making progress in recognizing different looks from the defense. The coaches are flooding them with information every day on the film room and on the field.
"We had a blitz period yesterday with about five or six coverages and eight (defenders) coming," Hill said. "We might only see that once a game. We might not see it for three weeks, but from a mental standpoint we're progressing daily. It's a good thing is we have three more weeks."
Energizing the running game is another point of emphasis.
The Falcons finished 27th in rushing last year, but Koetter believes the offseason signing of the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Jackson, the NFL's career active leading rusher, could work wonders.
"He's just such a complete back, and his body of work in the NFL bears that out," Koetter said. "Steven does everything well. He runs the ball well, he catches the ball out of the backfield, he's good in the screen game and he's excellent in protection."
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