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NFL Draft preview: Falcons want more spine in lines

FLOWERY BRANCH — Over the offseason, the Atlanta Falcons talked about being able to show more grit and toughness in 2013, especially in the trenches.

They signed eight free agents, but the key additions were in the trenches on both sides of the ball. In addition to the signees, they replace coaches at those positions.

Quarterback Matt Ryan applauded the addition to two new offensive linemen — guard Jon Asamoah and guard/tackle Gabe Carimi.

In 2013, the Falcons allowed pressure on 37.6 percent of their dropbacks, according to profootballfocus.com. After film review, the offensive line was credited with giving up 32 of the 44 sacks. The quarterback was hit 42 times and hurried 190 times. On 710 dropbacks, the pass protection broke down on 264 plays.

“We have some adjustments to make on the offensive line, with two new coaches at that position,” Ryan said. “Some of the things that we need to work out are communication-type things and how we are going to identify certain things.”

The Falcons own the sixth pick in the draft and will be in position to add to the offensive line’s talent base. Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan are widely considered the top three tackles in the draft.

“We’re not naive, those guys have taken some heat,” Ryan said. “They’ve had to answer questions and tough questions all of last season and through the offseason season so far. They’ve taken it as a challenge and have been in there working as hard as they possibly can.

The offensive line additions all have blemishes on their records.

Asamoah lost his starting job to journeyman Geoff Schwartz last season in Kansas City. Carimi, a former first-round pick, has been released by two teams and new offensive line coach Mike Tice’s units have been shaky.

In his seven seasons as an offensive line coach, Tice’s unit was ranked in the top 10 in sacks allowed three times. In 2010, his Chicago Bears line led the league with 56 sacks. In 2011, his Chicago line gave up 49 sacks, fifth in the league. In 2001, his Minnesota line gave up 47 sacks, which ranked seventh in the league.

Defensive the Falcons add some girth in defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson. Both can gobble up blockers and should allow the linebackers room to flow to the ball better.

The Falcons spent $80.5 million to secure three free agents, when they added Soliai ($33 million), Jackson ($25 million) and Asamoah ($22.5 million). Carmi, a former first-round pick, was a castoff from Tampa Bay and had also been previously cut by Chicago.

Smith believes the Falcons are already on their way to rebounding from a 4-12 season, which just a year removed from the franchise was playing in just its third NFC championship game.

“I wish somebody would ask me do you think we’re going to make the playoffs, because if they did, I’d tell you ‘yes,’” Smith said. “You want to be a relevant football team in November and December. I can’t look into a crystal ball, but we’ve got the men in that room. We’ve got the men in the coaching locker room. We’ve got the men in the personnel department that are going to supply us with the players that we need.”

NOTES: The Falcons started their offseason training program Monday with a big turnout. “I think everybody is excited to get back to work,” Atlanta QB Matt Ryan said. “We’ve got an unbelievable turnout for the first two days of the offseason. I’m excited about it.” There were no reports of anyone being out of shape or drastically over-weight.”