Last season was a tough one for the Falcons' Sam Baker. His back issues flared up again and he underwent surgery, which sidelined him for four games. He lost his starting job to Will Svitek and was moved to guard, where he saw some playing time late in the season.
Despite his struggles, it doesn't sound like the Falcons are ready to give up on Baker, a first-round pick in 2008.
How comfortable would they be heading into next season with Baker as their starting left tackle?
"Very comfortable," head coach Mike Smith told PFW Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I thought Sam had his best year (in 2010). This (past) season, unfortunately, he got injured and had to have a procedure done and missed some time. We're looking forward to having Sam back. Sam's very resilient and has fought through a lot of injuries through his first three years."
There's been some speculation that Baker could be released this offseason, but it appears likely that the Falcons will at least give him a chance to compete to win back the starting job at left tackle. Baker and Svitek, who started 10 games at left tackle last season, are both signed through next season.
"Will did a nice job," Smith said. "Like always, there's going to be competition for almost every spot on our team."
While major turnover at the OLT spot might not be in the cards, there could be changes elsewhere on the offensive line. The pass protection for QB Matt Ryan was inconsistent last season, and the front five struggled to generate a push at the line of scrimmage in some key short-yardage situations, including a few failed 4th-and-1 conversions.
"Ultimately, the decision was made based on the fact that we felt like we could move the ball in less-than-a-yard situations," Smith said. "We've not only got to look at what we did schematically, but we also have to evaluate what the (players) did, as well."
C Todd McClure, Atlanta's starting center since the 2000 season, is due to become an unrestricted free agent March 13 and, while he told PFW during the season that he intended to play for two more years, it's not clear if he will be returning to the team for a 14th season.