FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Things are night-and-day different for Alex Mack at this point in time.
Prior to Atlanta's second preseason game a year ago, Mack was still learning his new offensive system and working on improving his continuity with the rest of the offensive line as well as quarterback Matt Ryan.
Now, rather than having to practice a range of things in a small period of time, Mack can spend his time focusing on fine tuning one or two areas of his game.
The addition of Mack proved to be invaluable for the Falcons last season. With Mack anchoring the line, Ryan put together his best season to date, earning the league's MVP honor. Ryan finished the season with career highs in the following statistical categories: completion percentage (69.9), passing yards (4,944), yards per attempt (9.26), touchdowns (38).
Despite Ryan and the Falcons' offensive success in 2016, Mack believes he can be even better in protection – one of the particular areas he's focused on.
"Pass protection-wise, I think Matt got hit a couple too many times last year so really trying to work on the firmness of the pocket," Mack said of areas he wanted to improve upon. "As a unit, [we're] trying get the pass protection really solid."
Not only was Mack a factor in the Falcons' passing attack, he played a key role in the run game. Atlanta averaged 120.5 yards on the ground a game, which was sixth-best in the league.
Mack is one of the nine starters Atlanta returns from the 2016 season where they set a franchise record in points per game, averaging a league-high 33.8.
With so many familiar faces in tow, Mack believes it's given his team a big advantage in terms of preparation. Atlanta returns all but one starter along the offensive line, with only the right guard spot open – currently a battle between Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland.
"We're starting training camp much further ahead than we were last year," Mack said. "Everyone really knows each other; we've done the combo blocks. We know where we want to get, too. We still have work really hard to get there because it takes every day fine tuning those little technique things to get there. Everyone is really interested in working hard and getting that run game going."