Throughout the week of preparation for the Green Bay Packers, Falcons head coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter each praised the improved work by the team's offensive line.
The position group has seen more than its fair share of changes this season due to five injuries within the group and two specifically at the center position. Joe Hawley's season ended after a Week 4 knee injury. Less than one month later, backup center Peter Konz was done for the year after suffering a knee injury in Week 7.
Since then, undrafted rookie center James stone has stepped in to lead the group in remarkable fashion.
"James has really exceeded expectations for where he started the season and where he is now," Koetter said. "(He's) extremely intelligent and a tough competitor. Honestly, we were scared to death losing Joe (Hawley) and Pete (Konz), getting down to our third center, but James has come in there and done a nice job. He's played very solid."
Smith described Stone's improvement throughout the season as a "very good story," largely created by his work ethic and mentality. The former Tennessee star credited his time with the Volunteers, including starts in his last 24 games on campus, as early preparation for a hopeful opportunity in the NFL.
Off the field, Stone is very soft-spoken, but when the ball is snapped, he's been taking charge and maximizing practice time to further impove the OL.
"If you get an opportunity, you've got to make the most of it and show that you're ready to be here," Stone said. "When you're playing with five guys, the more time you get to play together, the more in sync you get. I feel like it helps you play better when you get more reps together."