A number of things were different when the media was given their first look at the 2014 Falcons during the second day of offseason training activities earlier this week.
For one, there were a lot of new numbers and names on the field and many of the media had to refer to their roster frequently to keep track of who was who. Another was the influence of a few new coaches and their fingerprint on the way in which the Falcons practiced Wednesday. New coaches bring new methods and new offensive line coach Mike Tice had the four-man blocking sled and used it nearly as much as he used his voice.
The Falcons were back on the practice fields Wednesday morning for the second day of organized team activities.
This year's offensive line is expected to perform better than last season. They've imported additional talent in free agency's Jon Asamoah and the draft's Jake Matthews. Tice has a long NFL pedigree of success with O-linemen and he's got a lot of pieces to work with to put together a starting five that can help the offense take a step forward as a passing and running team.
Sam Baker was back and is healthy heading into his seventh season at left tackle. He joins Justin Blalock on the left side and Joe Hawley and Peter Konz appear set to battle it out at center. Of those six, five should emerge to be Matt Ryan's remade offensive line.
While OTA practices don't allow contact, Tice provided the next best thing. Throughout the practice's rotation, Tice would at times use the blocking sled to work on drive blocking with the linemen. In true old-school fashion, Tice stood on the back of the sled, yelling instruction as it was driven backwards.
"Mike is very animated," head coach Mike Smith said. "He can get his point across, both with his vocal chords and with his presence. He's a big man, he's done this a long time. He's got head coaching experience. He's been a coordinator, offensive line coach, it's good to have him on the staff."
This offseason has been about adding girth and grit and Tice brings both to work every day. This year's linemen have to deal with Tice on a daily basis and when it's all said and done, they may be better for it. So far, Tice is encouraged by what he's working with, but if that changes, someone will hear about it.
"I think toughness is how you finish on plays, the intensity in which you play each play when the ball is snapped," Tice said. "What I've seen so far is the guys have bought into that. I don't think there is a choice. That's what's going to be demanded of them and we'll have very little patience if we don't get that. What I see so far, I'm pleased with."