<
>

Mike Tice: Jake Matthews will be back to form in second half of season

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's obvious Atlanta Falcons rookie left tackle Jake Matthews hasn't been himself since the start of the season.

Matthews suffered a high left ankle sprain in the season opener against New Orleans, an injury that typical takes four to six weeks to fully heal. Rather than rest and recover, Matthews missed just one game and gutted out the last six contests while playing well below 100 percent.

The sixth overall pick even tweaked the ankle again during a Week 5 loss to the New York Giants. But Matthews refused to use the injury as a crutch, even as he struggled against the likes of New York's Jason Pierre-Paul and Chicago's Jared Allen.

Now, Matthews will have had almost two full weeks of rest before taking the field against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice believes Matthews will be back to his normal self after finally getting ample time to recover.

"I think the thing that really has happened with Jake is right tackle, right tackle, right tackle, right tackle, right tackle, left tackle, boom, hurt,'' Tice said. "He has really not played with any confidence in his ankle. And I think as he's getting healthy -- and I think, right now, he's as healthy as has been with that week off -- I think his confidence level has really picked up.

"I think he had some concern about getting beat because of that ankle. Even this week in practice, you can start to see that go away. So I expect Jake to be on the rise the rest of the way out.''

While the interior of the Falcons' offensive line will have to contend with one of the league's best in Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Matthews is likely to face an underachieving pass-rusher in Buccaneers veteran defensive end Michael Johnson, who has two sacks and three quarterback hits in seven games played.