Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making a Leap in 2013. No. 34 on the list: The Atlanta Falcons' offensive line
Why the Falcons' O-line is on the list
The Atlanta Falcons have two vacancies on the offensive line following the departures of center Todd McClure and right tackle Tyson Clabo, who started a combined 294 games for the franchise.
The front office has been preparing for the transition at both positions, drafting Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley in the third and fourth rounds in 2010 and Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes in the second and third rounds last year. It's time for this group to sink or swim.
Konz is considered the favorite in the battle with Hawley for the center job. Although Konz started nine games for an injured Garrett Reynolds at right guard last season, he was the consensus top center available in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Offering ideal size at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, Holmes was a favorite of NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock coming out of Southern Miss.
"Lamar was drafted because he's an exceptional athlete," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter recently said. "He's a big, strong, powerful man with good feet and long arms."
The Falcons would like to see Holmes win the right tackle job, but he's been running behind Johnson in spring practices.
The biggest issue at right tackle is the lack of experience. The majority of Johnson's playing time has come in "jumbo" packages as an extra tight end, while Holmes saw just seven garbage-time snaps after missing organized team activities and training camp as a rookie. Johnson was drafted to replace Harvey Dahl at right guard, but has been unable to beat out 2009 fifth-round draft pick Garrett Reynolds for a starting job.
Konz has a reputation as a master technician with a high football IQ, but he's tall for the position and lacks upper body strength. If he's going to succeed as the Falcons' starting center, he's going to have to avoid plays like the one below. Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Jeff Chandler simply overpowers Konz, causing Matt Ryan to throw the ball away.
With a veritable all-star team on offense, the majority of the question marks on the roster reside on the other side of the ball. The lone exception is the inexperienced offensive line. The Falcons seem confident that Konz will thrive in a return to his natural position. If Holmes lives up to his potential, this unit could actually be improved from last season. If Holmes doesn't, the past few drafts have provided the Faclons with the depth and versatility to keep the high-scoring offense afloat.