Camp Battles 2013: Interior Offensive Line
Certainly one position along the interior of the offensive line is set in stone, and that is the left guard position where Justin Blalock is expected to start his seventh consecutive year at the position.
More than likely another position will be won by 2012 second round pick Peter Konz. He is expected to start at center after spending the latter half of his rookie season playing right guard. Konz struggled in that role, serving as the weakest link among the team’s starting five. But he finished the year with solid efforts in both playoff games, suggesting that improvements were made.
His presence at the pivot likely pushes Joe Hawley out of the mix to start. Hawley was initally drafted in 2010 as the heir apparent to long-time Falcon center Todd McClure, who retired this past offseason. But with Konz’s selection at the top of last year’s draft, it led to Hawley likely being viewed more as a backup after a rocky year as the starting right guard in 2011.
Hawley could again push for time at right guard however where Garrett Reynolds is the current incumbent. Reynolds has started at right guard each of the past two seasons on opening day, but poor play in 2011 led to his being benched in favor of Hawley. And last year, injuries led to the insertion of Konz into the starting lineup. Reynolds hopes that in 2012 he can not only win the starting job again, but also retain it throughout the remainder of the season. Reynolds showed improvement in 2012 after a disappointingly brief 2011 campaign. While Reynolds is probably ideally a backup, he showed last year that he can be an effective starter if need be.
Another player that could possibly mix into the battle here is tackle Mike Johnson, who many including myself feel is a more natural fit at guard than tackle. But he’s competing with Lamar Holmes for the starting spot at right tackle, and it’s doubtful that at this point he’ll get a long look inside.
The Falcons will likely try and keep at least eight offensive linemen, which will include the five currently projected starters, the loser of the right tackle battle between Johnson and Holmes, and Hawley. The eighth spot will most likely go to another interior player, someone that can play guard.
The incumbent would be considered Phillipkeith Manley, who surprised many with a strong summer last year as an undrafted rookie and made the Falcons final 53. There have been rumors of his weight ballooning this off-season, which if true could open the door for other players to take his spot. The top candidate would then likely be Jacques McClendon, who spent last year on the team’s practice squad. McClendon has added to his value by getting off-season work at center as well. Both guards have good size and strength that is a much more natural fit to fill as a reserve there than the undersized Hawley.
Also in the mix will be fellow practice squad player Harland Gunn. Gunn has experience both at guard and center from his days with the Dallas Cowboys last summer. Undrafted center Matt Smith and guard Theo Goins will also be in the mix, but both players are longshots to make the final roster. Instead, both are more likely to make the practice squad if they prove to play well this summer.