One of the few major battles that is expected to occur in the starting lineup this summer will come at right tackle. All offseason long, the Falcons have worked fourth-year man Mike Johnson as the starting right tackle. He’ll be pushed by second-year Lamar Holmes for the starting position.
Over the past few years with the few battles that have occurred along the offensive line, the player that starts camp as the starter has ended camp as the starter. It will be interesting to see if that remains the case again this year. When the Falcons released long-time incumbent Tyson Clabo, the expectation was that Holmes would be the top candidate to replace him. But the Falcons started OTAs with Johnson atop the depth chart.
Holmes is the stronger of the pair and the more athletic, but Johnson is a bit more polished. Holmes was considered a long-term project by myself when he was drafted a year ago, a player that likely needed more than a year before he could be asked to start effectively. His long-term value is clearly better than Johnson’s going forward, who many feel is a better and more natural fit inside at guard. Johnson was originally drafted as insurance at the guard position in 2010 when both Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl were entering their contract years.
Meanwhile, Holmes was insurance last year in case Sam Baker continued to struggle at left tackle. Baker came out and had arguably his best season in 2012, remaining healthy and being the Falcons most consistent blocker up front. Baker answered many of the questions about his ability with a strong effort against Aldon Smith in the NFC Championship game, earning himself a brand new, expensive market-value contract.
Baker won’t be looking over his shoulder at the competition this summer. Instead all of the focus will be who will win the starting right tackle position. The loser will likely serve as the team’s swing tackle. But the possibility that Holmes wins the job, could mean that Johnson could be moved inside to guard where he could compete for the starting job at right guard. But more than likely that will be Garrett Reynolds’ job to lose, and unless he struggles this summer he’s in prime position to open the season for the third year in the row atop the depth chart.
Another key battle will likely occur for the backup position behind Baker, where undrafted rookies Terren Jones and Ryan Schraeder are potentially competing for a roster spot. Given that Johnson is a more adept option at right tackle as opposed to being a player that can ideally play either spot, if Holmes wins the starting job, it increases the odds that the Falcons keep one of the young tackles to fill out their depth chart. The Falcons probably only have to keep eight blockers up front, but traditionally carry nine of the roster. The five starters, the loser of the Holmes-Johnson battle, center Joe Hawley, and one of the reserve guards make eight. That leaves the ninth possible position likely to be one of the tackles. Both Jones and Schraeder offer good size and run blocking ability. The Falcons will hope that one emerges amidst the battle to offer himself as a potential long-term developmental backup along the same veins that Jose Valdez was in Atlanta years ago.
Third-string right tackle Alec Savoie will also be in the mix as a strong summer likely could earn him a backup spot as well. The Falcons likely will feature all three rookies working with the second team unit, and probably try and cross-train them to play on either side of the line. Whichever of the three opens the preseason working with the second unit across from Holmes will be a strong indicator at which has the best odds of making the roster as the ninth lineman.