The Atlanta Falcons offensive line was an underachieving unit in 2020, but new head coach Arthur Smith likes what he's seeing from that group early at training camp.
An early focus in the coach's recent media visit was on possible starter Matt Hennessy and the center position. Smith is pleased with the early return on Hennessy.
"We're putting a lot on Matt's plate," Smith told reporters. "That's a really important position for us. Matt's handled what we've thrown at him."
Smith was quick to point out that it is an open competition.
"Drew Dalman is doing a nice job, and then we've got Josh Andrews who can go in there,'' he said.
A Stanford product, Dalman was selected with the fourth-round pick the Falcons got from the Denver Broncos when they moved down from the 35th slot to the 40th pick. It was a shrewd move by new general manager Terry Fontenot to get Dalman and still get the player the Falcons were targeting at 35, safety Richie Grant.
Meanwhile, Smith is finding that he has players capable of filling multiple roles.
"We've got some versatility in there, some guys that are flexible,'' he said. "That's our charge every day. You've got to make sure you're developing the right guys, having competition in there at center. Then making sure you're picking the right eight guys to dress up for you on game day."
"You've got to have real competition, and obviously right now with some of the injuries or protocols, we're having to move guys around."
And how to look at that, from a coaching perspective?
"I always look at it is we're in the solution business,'' he said. "We've got to find solutions to those problems. You'd love to have everybody healthy. It's just not going to happen; it's not reality in the NFL. So you've got to attack it. You can't spend a lot of energy worrying about 'what if this guy was here?' He's not."
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"That's where somebody like Jalen (helps),'' Smith said. "You can work him inside. He played tackle in college. He's getting an opportunity right there, and it's only going to help him. Whether he starts or he dresses, you've got a guy who can go in there and play different positions."
"The solution business'' continues on, and not just for the O-line, but for everything first-year coach Smith is doing to try to turn around the Falcons program.