FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice has done an admirable job piecing the line together after losing five linemen to season-ending injuries: Sam Baker (knee), Joe Hawley (ACL), Peter Konz (ACL), Lamar Holmes (foot), and Mike Johnson (Lisfranc).
Tice has used five different starting line combinations this season with three different starting centers and three different starting right tackles -- four, if you count rookie first-round draft pick Jake Matthews working at right tackle upon his arrival. But Tice has worked with the same group the last six games, and the group has made tremendous strides.
Here is how Tice breaks down the current five starters:
Left tackle Jake Matthews: "He's on a roll right now. He's playing good football. He has one or two bad sets a game. He's much better in the run game than he was earlier in the season. Playing with a lot of confidence. He's playing like who we thought he was when we drafted him."
Left guard Justin Blalock: "Is a very good pass protector. J.B. has gotten better in our run game and has been practicing extremely well the last three weeks."
Center James Stone: "Very smart. Very big for a center. Tremendous lateral quickness. Gets us lined up every play, and is very mature for a rookie."
Right guard Jon Asamoah: "He's the most consistent player that we've had all year and the only player that's played in every game. Very consistent."
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder: "Ryan is very athletic, very smart. He plays with great awareness. And his competitive level, his energy, and his aggression are maybe the highest in the group."