Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 4/10/12
At the NFL meeting, Falcons coach Mike Smith reiterated his position that he made at the NFL Scouting Combine about the team being committed to Sam Baker as the left tackle. The offensive line was hurt significantly by back and elbow injuries to Baker last season. Smith believes the unit will be stronger if Baker, who had back surgery during the season, can return healthy. Will Svitek stepped in a played well for Baker last season and retained the starting spot once Baker returned from back surgery. Baker had to spend some time at guard in a reserve role and played as an extra blocker in short-yardage situations. "We are looking forward to having a healthy Sam back," Smith said. "Sam is very resilient. He's fought through a lot of injuries." Smith went on to state that he'd be comfortable if Baker was the starting left tackle in 2012. There is speculation that the Falcons should pick up Marcus McNeill, who was cut by San Diego this offseason. There are currently no plans to audition the former Auburn star. "Sam has a long future with us," Smith said. "Sam has shown a lot of resiliency. Sam really has worked through a lot of injuries throughout his career. "He's played through a lot of things. Sam, in my mind, was playing very well through the first five or six games last season until he was injured and had to have the procedure done on his back." Baker has been a cornerstone of the Falcons' rebuilding efforts. He was selected 18 picks after quarterback Matt Ryan in the 2008 draft. He has started 41 of 50 games over four seasons. He's had injury issues in three of the seasons. He started all 16 games just once, in 2009. Svitek has started 16 of 61 games in the NFL, including 10 starts last season. He was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Falcons signed him as a free agent in February 2009 after he was cut by the Chiefs. At the league meeting, Smith also spoke about defensive tackle Peria Jerry, a former first-round pick who has struggled in the league after suffering a gruesome knee injury in his second career game. He's been a member of the defensive tackle rotation, but has failed to make an impact. The Falcons' position of not announcing details of injuries has helped to fuel the perception that Jerry's been a bust. In the second game of his career he suffered what was described as a "severe" injury. But the details have not been forthcoming. "We've committed to Peria Jerry and Peria ended up playing about 30 percent of the snaps (last season)," Smith said. "He was a rotational player. He had some production, but it wasn't consistent production." The Falcons are hoping that a couple of their former first-round picks can have bounce-back seasons in 2012. -The Falcons exhibition season schedule, which includes one nationally televised game, was released by the league on Wednesday (April 4). NOTES, QUOTES The Falcons will have home games against Baltimore and Cincinnati. They will have road games at Miami on Saturday Aug. 25 and Jacksonville at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30. The Cincinnati game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16 at the Georgia Dome and will be televised by FOX. The remaining dates and times will be released at a later date. -The Falcons did not receive a redesign from Nike, which released their line of NFL jerseys in New York April 3. The only noticeable change in the Falcons uniform is the Nike swoosh on the shoulder. However, Seattle received a total makeover. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL With the loss of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons must revamp their linebacking corps. Second-year man Akeem Dent will get a shot to play middle linebacker on running downs. He must beat out Lofa Tatupu, the three-time Pro Bowler who's mounting a comeback after not playing last season. Dent was named to Pro Football Weekly's all-rookie team, as voted on by Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Writers of America. Dent, a third-round pick from Georgia, had 19 special teams tackles. He started 29 of 47 games at Georgia, including 16 at strong-side linebacker in the 4-3 and 13 at inside linebacker in the 3-4. QUOTE TO NOTE "I like the jerseys!. The material is the key, the reebok jerseys held too much sweat.... New jerseys look sleek." -- Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on the new Nike jerseys.
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