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D. Orlando LedbetterD. Orlando Ledbetter

Left tackle Sam Baker is off to a strong start

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Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice talks with players during Atlanta Falcons OTAs in Flowery Branch, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.  (By Kent D. Johnson/kjohnson@ajc.com)

Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice talks with players during Atlanta Falcons OTAs in Flowery Branch, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (By Kent D. Johnson/kjohnson@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons left tackle Sam Baker is off to a strong start after recovering from right knee surgery over the offseason.

Some of the other players coming back from injuries — wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive end Kroy Biermann — are on limited practice schedules.

Not Baker.

“I’m feeling good,” Baker said.

He’s adjusting to this third offensive line coach. The Falcons had Paul Boudreau from 2008-2010. He was replaced by Pat Hill and Paul Dunn. After Hill and Dunn were fired over the offseason, the Falcons hired Mike Tice to coach the offensive line.

Tice’s offensive line assistant is Wade Harman.

“It’s good to have coach (Mike) Tice and all of the stuff that he’s brought,” Baker said. “Installing this time was a lot more efficient just because we knew the techniques that he wanted to use.”

Tice has revamped the blocking scheme, although the offensive line won’t be allowed to cut-block in practice when they wear pads on Monday for the first time in camp.

“All of the stuff, the looks and the speed with which we want to do things is there right now,” Baker said. “Just because we had the OTAs with him already, we understand what he wants. It’s only going to improve each day.”

Baker is elated to be back playing next to left guard Justin Blalock.

“He’s my best friend on this team,” Baker said. “It’s awesome having him right next to me. We’ve seen a lot of stuff together. It’s awesome having him right next to me.”

Some still contend that Baker will eventually make way for rookie Jake Matthews at left tackle and that he’ll end his career at right tackle. For now, Baker plans to hold down the left tackle spot and help out Matthews. Baker was listed on Grantland.com’s All-Bad Contracts Team.

Offensive Tackle: Sam Baker, Falcons
Contract Flaw: Ever Fallen in Love With a Player You Shouldn’t Have?

Having repeatedly seen Baker struggle with both his health and his performance as a pass blocker in the left tackle role he had been drafted to fill, the Falcons found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place last offseason. They had few options at offensive tackle and limited salary-cap space to work with, but Baker just wasn’t athletic or reliable enough to play left tackle. Instead of moving on, Atlanta compromised and gave Baker a six-year, $41 million contract with $14.3 million guaranteed. One year later, Baker has proven yet again that he’s not a quality left tackle, which led Atlanta to use its first-round pick this year on Jake Matthews. He’ll be Matt Ryan’s left tackle sooner rather than later, while Baker will become one of the more expensive right tackles in football.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” said Baker of Matthews. “He’s got all of the ability in the world. The NFL is a big step, but he’s got all of the tools to do it. He’s sped up the learning curve like I’ve never seen. He’s a special player, you can tell.”

Tice hasn’t been easy on Baker or the rookie either.

“He’s got his own philosophies,” Baker said. “He doesn’t care how we did it last year, he wants it done his way.”

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