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Saving Ryan? Falcons offensive line could see changes

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons center Todd McClure hopes he doesn't have to offer another apology to quarterback Matt Ryan.

After Ryan was harassed repeatedly in last week's 16-13 loss at Tampa Bay, McClure wanted him to know that the offensive line appreciates his toughness in the pocket.

Ryan has been hit 21 times, according to NFL statistics, and sacked 13 times -- third-most in the NFL.

"I told him that last week on the plane," McClure said Thursday. "We respect what he does, stepping in there time after time to throw the ball. It's got to be a tough situation for him to be in, and he's handled it really well."

Personnel changes could come shortly. As the Falcons (1-2) prepare to visit Seattle (1-2) on Sunday, coach Mike Smith is promising a full evaluation on each starter and reserve.

McClure, Atlanta's starting center since 1999, doesn't lack job security, and it's likely the same goes for right tackle Tyson Clabo and left guard Justin Blalock, each of whom signed new contracts in training camp.

Smith won't say whether left tackle Sam Baker and right guard Garrett Reynolds are in jeopardy of losing their starting jobs, but they clearly have competition.

Baker, a starter since Atlanta drafted him late the first round of 2008, struggled against fierce pressure from Chicago, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay and faces a challenge from Will Svitek, a sixth-year veteran in his third season as a Falcons backup.

Reynolds, a fifth-round pick by the Falcons in 2009, is getting pushed on the depth chart by Joe Hawley, who made his first two career starts last month as McClure recovered from a knee injury.

"It's different from the offseason because you've got more snaps in your practices and you're in a preparation mode," Smith said. "Once the season starts, you don't have as many snaps to make an evaluation, but we've told our guys from the very beginning that we're going to have open competition at all times."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.

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