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'We're back': Dwayne Ledford returns to coach offensive line for Falcons in 2024, expands foundation already set

The Falcons answered an important question in 2023 about the depth of their offensive line. Ledford says that's an important part of the next step of the unit this season. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It was 10:30 p.m. when Dwayne Ledford put on his Hulkamania comfort shirt, hopped into bed and turned on the movie "300" to unwind for the evening. Nothing says relaxing quite like the famed 2006 movie depicting Gerard Butler as an outnumbered Spartan fighting to the death, right? But hey, Ledford is an offensive line coach. Perhaps the activities he prefers to use to unwind are different than us non-offensive-line-coaching folks.

It was late January and the last few weeks had been uncertain for Ledford and his wife. The Falcons had parted ways with former head coach Arthur Smith, the person who brought Ledford to the professional ranks after years of success coaching offensive line at the college level. In just a few seasons, Ledford had helped form a group that ultimately established the rush in Atlanta after years of run-game struggles. He saw Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews rewarded with major contract extensions. He saw the drafting of starters Matthew Bergeron and Drew Dalman. Ultimately, he helped create a group that saw production regardless of who slotted in along the line of scrimmage itself.

And yet, with Smith out of the job, Ledford didn't know what his future looked like in Atlanta despite the success his unit had achieved. The uncertainty quickly turned to clarity, though, when his phone began to ring as Sparta's strategy played out before him on the TV screen. He noticed it was a FaceTime call, and as he fumbled for his phone, attempting to answer he ended up missing the call altogether.

"Who's FaceTiming me at 10:30 at night?" Ledford remembers questioning.

Soon after, a text came in from new Falcons head coach Raheem Morris.

"Call me back when you get a chance," Ledford recalls the text from Morris saying.

He immediately called back. What ensued was what Ledford called a "great conversation." For starters, Morris wanted Ledford to stay in Atlanta. What's more? He wanted to -- in a sense -- promote Ledford, giving him more responsibility in 2024. He'd still be the offensive line coach, but starting this season he would take on the official title of run game coordinator as well. There was a certain sense of excitement and gratefulness that washed over Ledford in that moment.

"I had heard a lot of great things with people who have worked with Raheem before and then getting to talk to him and meet him? You feel his energy. You feel his passion." Ledford said. "So, you're excited about that. We had a great conversation and I'm thankful he gave me the opportunity to come back."


There's something to be said about Ledford returning to coach the Falcons offensive line for the fourth year in a row. More than anything Ledford has spoken about in regards to this group is continuity. That's something that matters for offensive linemen, whose success lives and dies with the unit as a whole. It's why when Ledford sent players like Lindstrom and Matthews a text late that night saying simply, "We're back," it was met with nothing but excitement.

From a coaching perspective, Ledford said he felt great about having the opportunity to be retained as a coach in Atlanta. He felt better when he met new offensive coordinator Zac Robinson.

When the coaching search began in full force in January, Ledford told his wife then that whatever happens -- wherever it happens -- it's got to be an opportunity "that matches what you believe in from a fundamental standpoint." From Day 1 under Morris and Robinson, that match was there.

"It's all about speed off the ball, toughness and finish," Ledford said. "When I got to talk to Raheem and Zac, it's the same thing. I knew there's a common thread there. There's common ground. Obviously, I was very excited about that because not only do you want to come back, but you want to make sure that everything is going to be a fit. So, I do think it fits right in with what we've been building here."

So, Ledford's back. The majority of the 2023 starting linemen should be back. The foundation they've laid over three years of work matches the direction of where Morris and Robinson want to take this offense. So, what's next for this unit? Now that it's official that Ledford isn't going anywhere, what goals does he have for the offensive line at large?

Surprisingly, it has more to do with developing depth than anything.

There's obviously always going to be fundamentals that you want to see tighten up for the group. That's a given. But the fact Ledford felt like the Falcons really had its depth tested last year and didn't have a major falloff in play at the line of scrimmage spoke to the depth the Falcons had developed in recent years at the position.

When Kaleb McGary went out with a knee injury, Dalman and Lindstrom worked through ankle injuries and Matthews missed some playing time because of a knee injury, too, the Falcons didn't really miss a beat with guys like Storm Norton, Kyle Hinton and Ryan Neuzil rotating in.

Ledford feels the Falcons answered a question of depth in 2023, and he hopes to build upon that answer in 2024.

"I thought last year, some of the guys who had that opportunity really stepped up," Ledford said. "That's what I'm excited for, just to continue building on the fundamentals that we're talking about, but let's take another step with it and continue to develop the depth that we have in those pieces and just take off.

"Let's try to take a hold of wanting to see those things day to day, the speed off the ball, the toughness, the finish and continue to develop the things that we've worked since Day 1," Ledford said.

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