Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 6/5/13
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Mike Johnson admitted to shock when he learned that the Falcons had released Tyson Clabo earlier in the spring. Looking over the offensive lines meeting room, the faces changed and it got younger in a flash. The Falcons decision to cut Clabo and to force center Todd McClure into retirement wiped away 296 NFL starts in a matter of weeks, which, in NFL offseason time, equates to the speed of light by the time offseason team activities arrive. The players who are currently practicing with the Falcons first team during OTAs second-year player Peter Konz at center and Johnson at right tackle have a combined 11 NFL starts. Johnsons one start came as the sixth offensive lineman, the jumbo tight end. Garrett Reynolds, whos getting reps at right guard, has 13 starts over the last two seasons. As a second-round pick, Konz comes with a pedigree. He played right away. The other two positions loom as perhaps the Falcons biggest question marks entering the season, especially with the offense being such a focal point of a team without a dominant defense. As Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill told FoxSportsSouth.com on Wednesday, You make your living pass-blocking. With an untested player like Johnson having to take the place of Clabo, who played in the 2011 Pro Bowl, much rests on whether he can make the jump successfully. Johnson said he talks often to Clabo, whom he regarded as a leader of the group, as recently as two days ago. (Clabo signed with Miami.) Were ready for our shot at things, Johnson said. Ive been here three years. Were ready to help the team move forward but Tyson is obviously going to be hard to replace. A third-round pick out of Alabama in 2010, Johnson knows what pressure is about. He won a BCS national championship with the Crimson Tide. His Alabama and Falcons teammate Julio Jones said he thinks Johnson is up to the job in part for that reason. Just his work ethic, Jones said. Coming from Alabama, hes been prepared. He knows how to take on that work load. I dont feel like there will be any pressure on him, as well. Coming from Alabama, its the only thing in Alabama. Its like our NFL team. It shouldnt be a problem for him. With apologies to Auburn, Jones was asked if there were more pressure at Alabama than with the Falcons. He took a conspicuous moment before answering. Nah, he said. For now, to use a horse racing metaphor, Johnson leads the competition over Lamar Holmes, last years third-round pick who suffered an injury that kept him out for most of last years OTAs and training camp, by a number of lengths. Barring something unforeseen, you can probably pencil him in for the Sept. 8 opener at New Orleans. Lamars in a competition with Mike Johnson, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. We have competition at two or three different spots on the O-line. Lamar was drafted because hes an exceptional athlete. Hes a big, strong, powerful man with good feet and long arms. Lamar just needs experience. Missing OTAs and missing training camp last year and (being) really limited in preseason set Lamar behind the eight ball a little bit so Lamars playing catch-up a little bit. Conversely, Johnson could benefit from his experience of playing in all 16 games last season, even if most of it came as the jumbo tight end. In some blowouts, he got time on the line. Every time you get a new experience out there, it helps, Hill said. Just from college back to the pros, you get so many more looks here. The speed is a lot faster. The movement is so fast. The alignments change a lot. What you see in the playbook isnt what you always see on the field. Its the experience, the communication -- with the right guard, with the tight end. Johnson also said that experience helped but also joked about it, too. It was neat just to get in game situations, said Johnson, who caught a touchdown pass on a trick play last season. Kind of get some plays under your belt. I got a few game situations at guard and tackle and tight end. Its only beneficial. I dont think its going to help me when Im getting speed-rushed by Osi (Umenyiora) in practice or somebody else in the game but its just one of those things. You do what you can when you can and it helps a lot. One big transformation in that position for the Falcons could simply come in physical size. Clabo weighed 330 pounds. Johnson was drafted as a guard, a position that is generally (but not always) smaller. He said his weight has fluctuated from 314 pounds to the 280s. He said now he is 304, which Hill said was lean muscle, adding that Johnson has low body fat. Johnson said he is working with the teams new strength and conditioning coach and a nutritionist, as are all the teams linemen. As a smaller tackle, Johnson could benefit the offenses transformation under Koetter, in his second season, to more of a passing team from a running one. Hill described the process of a tackle getting set in his spot the path between the pass rusher and the quarterback is something Johnson works on constantly and at which he is improving. Another factor that could accelerate the Falcons change into even more of a passing team is the addition of running back Steven Jackson, an excellent pass-catcher. Pass-blocking is what were going to do a lot of the time, Johnson said. Obviously, bringing Steven in might change the way we run our offense. Whatever they ask me to do is what Im going to pattern my game after. Hill said he thought the offensive line did a good job last season of protecting quarterback Matt Ryan. Its hard to argue with that, as the Falcons lost a close game in the NFC Championship to San Francisco. Nonetheless, he said the Falcons want to improve in that regard. In any event, much of the teams success could be predicated on how the right side of the line and Johnson, in particular holds up. Of course, everybody is going to say that, Koetter said. But I think itll work out. The way turnover is in the NFL right now, your guys have to step up. Pete moving really, he was drafted to be a center, so now hes moving to center. Garrett was doing a good job at right guard and what people dont realize was he played one or two games with a back that needed surgery. To me that shows his toughness. Mike Johnson, Lamar Holmes, Joe Hawley we have plenty of guys. I think itll work itself out. Roll call Attendance at OTAs was mostly similar to last week. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is not participating in the voluntary workouts. Rookie draft picks Desmond Trufant (first round) and Levine Toilolo (fourth) remain unable to participate until their respective universities hold their graduations, a collective bargaining agreement rule. Wide receiver Roddy White, who was absent last week, has participated this week. Cornerback Asante Samuel, who was present last week, was absent this week. With both Samuel and Trufant out, second-round pick Robert Alford got plenty of reps. Starting linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas, who each underwent surgical procedures, remain out. Robiskie promoted Earlier in the week, the Falcons announced they had added to the duties of wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie to make him assistant head coach. Robiskie has served as an interim head coach in the NFL with Washington and is a long-time coaching veteran. Robiskie, whose son Brian is a wide receiver in the league, is especially good at relating to player but his usefulness is not limited to that. Terrys a former player and had a long career in the NFL and hes been coaching forever, Smith said. Hes a great resource for me. Hes been in the role as assistant head coach and as a head coach and I think its important We want to have coaches and like to have coaches who have sat in the head coaching chair. I think its important to be able to go in and bounce things off. Terry is one of those guys I can go in and bounce things off on a number of subjects, not just Xs and Os. Dealing with players, dealing with different situations. Terry has seen it all.
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