Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breakout Player: OG Justin Blalock (Falcons)

The 2007 season was the first without QB Michael Vick behind center for the Atlanta Falcons. The end result was an offense ranked 29th in the league in points scored and an offensive line that surrendered 47 sacks. Struck with injury after injury throughout the year, the offensive line was inconsistent and did not do much to help the revolving door of quarterbacks. One constant though, was the improvement of rookie starting left guard Justin Blalock, drafted in the 2nd round (39th pick overall) from the University of Texas.

The 6'3'' 320 pound Blalock is a very strong and powerful blocker. He started 51 games at right tackle in college for the Longhorns, but due to his lack of size and arm length, is molded much better to play guard in the NFL. Despite having a weak offense, Blalock helped usher a 3.9 yard per carry average for the Falcons running backs, not bad for a team lacking a true #1 ball carrier and the elusive Vick in the backfield.

When watching Blalock, he is a tough and competitive blocker, can move quickly in his 320 pound frame, and displays excellent agility in pass protection. He keeps good balance, has a powerful jab punch, and strives at finishing blocks on run plays. While he doesn't always use proper techniques, he can rely on his physical skills to make up for it and will stay consistent. He needs to continue to adjust playing the guard position and work on using more than just a strong first punch to take on defensive tackles. Overall he played well as a rookie for the Falcons and will improve after another year in the system.

What are some factors that will lead Blalock to having a breakout year in 2008?

1) Sam Baker The Falcons used their 1st round pick in last April's NFL Draft on the 6'5'' 305 pound left tackle from University of California (USC). Baker should be the opening day starter next to Blalock and will create a strong 1-2 punch on the left side of the offensive line. He uses great technique and is known for being an excellent pass blocker. He needs to add some more weight but has very quick feet. In any case its an improvement to the Falcons offense.

2) Michael Turner The Falcons also signed this free agent running back (Chargers) to become their #1 player in the backfield. Turner is an explosive runner with big play ability that should take some stress off the offense. With a questionable QB situation, between veteran QB Chris Redman and rookie QB Matt Ryan, it will be extremely important for the offense to have an established running game.

3) New OL Coach The Falcons brought in successful offensive line coach Paul Boudreau (Rams) to help mold a better unit in 2008. Boudreau has 21 years experience in the league and has coached lines that blocked for eight 1,000-yard rushers; including Pro Bowl RB Fred Taylor (Jaguars), Pro Bowl RB Curtis Martin (Patriots), Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders (Lions) and Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson (Rams). He will be a huge upgrade and make an immediate impact in Atlanta, especially with a young talented player like Blalock.

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