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To fill one of the most critical jobs on offense — protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side — the Falcons are expecting fifth-year veteran OLT Sam Baker to put forth one of his best seasons.
The club made it clear early this offseason that it was committed to giving Baker another chance to earn a starting job and put the injury issues that have plagued him in the past behind him after his disappointing 2011 campaign. Baker started the first six games in ’11 but struggled frequently, underwent back surgery around midseason and never regained his starting job, moving to guard late in the season.
Head coach Mike Smith would like to see competition for all the starting spots on the offensive line and Will Svitek, who started 10 games at left tackle last season, is capable of pushing Baker. The Falcons drafted OT Lamar Holmes in the third round this year, and his future could be at left tackle.
It’s Baker’s job to lose, though. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, he has said his problematic back is healthy.