The Falcons will be kicking off their preseason schedule this Thursday when they go up against the Baltimore Ravens. Even though it's game one we could get a lot of telling information out of the few series the starters will be in and then the subsequent series with the backups.
Perhaps the most discussed and debated area of the team so far this off-season, the offensive line is a unit everyone should keep a close eye on. The Falcons' interior will be facing trial by fire going up against Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, and Pernell McPhee. Ngata and McPhee, who both play five tech, combined for 11 sacks last season and the big man Terrence Cody racked up 34 tackles. LT Sam Baker might not get tested the way we thought as Terrel Suggs is out for the season after tearing his achillies. He'll still have to go up against rookie second round pick Courtney Upshaw who has looked impressive so far at camp.
From a technique stand point you will want to watch OG Garrett Reynolds closely. When looingk at Reynolds the first thing you want to watch is what type of leverage he is playing with. Reynolds is 6'7 so keeping the proper leverage will be huge and it is something he struggled with last year. If Reynolds has corrected this problem it will be a big step for him.
The other thing to watch with Reynolds will be his leg drive and if he keeps his feet moving while run blocking. Reynolds has a lot of upper body strength, but at times he'll stop driving his legs and moving his feet when run blocking. If Reynolds keeps driving his legs while run blocking expect to see some holes open up in the run game and some DL get pushed back a bit (although I wouldn't expect them to get blown off the line, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody are both 340 LBs.)
When Lamar Holmes gets into the game the important thing to watch will be his run blocking technique. He had a bad tendency to fall off his blocks in the running game at the college level, and it's important that Holmes stays on his blocks. Another thing to watch for in the run blocking game is to make sure that his feet are moving when he engages. He has a bad habit of trying to just out-muscle people with his upper body strength and stops using his legs and feet in the run game. Among other things it will be interesting to see how well he mirrors in pass protection. He is very light on his feet for a big man and mirrored very well in college.
The other unit you will want to look at is the defensive line. Even though the Ravens lost LG Ben Grubbs and C Andre Gurode, they still have two very good players in RG Marshall Yanda and RT Michael Oher. LT Bryant McKinnie is decent when he is in shape, but he may not play due to injury issues. The big thing to watch here will be Peria Jerry going up against RG Marshall Yanda. Yanda was one of the best guards in football last year and is a road grader in the run blocking game. Reports are that Jerry might finally be back to his old self from before he suffered a very severe knee injury his rookie season. The other matchup to watch will be Ray Edwards going against Oher. It will be important to see if Edwards has his burst back.
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From a technical stand point the two most important players to watch will be Peria Jerry and Lawrence Sidbury. Peria Jerry's big thing coming out of college was his explosiveness off the line and his quickness against interior lineman. After the injury he suffered it has taken a long time for him to finally regain those attributes, but from all reports they seem to finally be back. People should be adamant when it comes to watching Jerry's get off at the snap. The other important thing will be to watch his quickness inside, if he has those two attributes back he might give Yanda's his lion's share of the work in pass protection.
When watching reserve DE Lawerence Sidbury people should watch for his get-off and his spin move. Sidbury is very athletic and it showed in college. His main knock was that he wasn't very developed as a pass rusher and needed work in the run game. Sidbury has developed an almost Freeney-esque spin move and looks to be developing the same kind of lean. Combined with his speed and explosive first step off the ball he might be a hand full for the Ravens' reserve OTs.
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