FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. On a sun-splashed May afternoon in the hills of North Georgia as the temperature hovered around 80 degrees, Falcons second-round draft pick Peter Konz could not believe how hot he was.
A Wisconsin native who played at the University of Wisconsin, the offensive lineman came to Falcons rookie camp from temperatures of below 50 degrees.
The poor Badger hasnt even begun to learn the meaning of Hotlanta and yet he spent the night before the opening day of rookie camp last Friday sweating in his bed.
Just wait until the late summer when training camp begins and the heat index is likely to cook in the triple digits.
Oh, wow, I dont know, said Konz, 6-foot-5, 314 pounds, at the thought of training camp. Do they have those little air conditioners in helmets yet? Like totally Jetsons? Im going to have to do a lot of outdoor activity before then to get adjusted. I hear the humiditys horrid down here.
Its a good thing for Konzs sake and maybe the Falcons that the team plays in a dome if they expect to make good use of their 55th overall selection on him. On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he signed a four-year deal worth 3.58 million with a 1.05 million signing bonus. In evaluating a 2011 campaign in which the Falcons won 10 games and made the playoffs, general manager Thomas Dimitroff has said that the season was challenging in terms of its offensive line play, which did not allow the Falcons to maximize the use of wide receiver Julio Jones, their top draft pick that season, as a deep threat.
As a result, the Falcons fired former offensive line coach Paul Boudreau and brought in as his replacement Pat Hill, the head coach at Fresno State for the last 15 years, and used their first two draft picks last month on offensive linemen, Konz and tackle Lamar Holmes in the third round, 84th overall, out of Southern Miss. (Holmes was diagnosed as having what head coach Mike Smith called a minor foot issue so the team kept him out of drills as a precaution and did not make him available to the media. Hill also was not made available to the media during the three days of rookie camp, as they team is allowing him time to learn its personnel.)
Smith has promised a lot of competition on the line come training camp. Left guard Justin Blalock, center Todd McClure and right tackle Tyson Clabo seem likely to remain in their spots with left tackle and right guard up for grabs, but nothing would seem to be a safe bet. Count Konz, a center in college whom the team is training at guard and center, Joe Hawley, Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson among the candidates at right guard and Sam Baker, Will Svitek and Holmes the ones at tackle, but dont be surprised if the Falcons find a cap casualty or free-agent to play left tackle.
Johnson, a third-round pick in 2010 (98th overall) who played on Alabamas 2009 national title team, seemed to be a leading candidate to win the right guard spot but has had trouble staying healthy. Smith said not to count him out.
I think Mike is right in the middle of it, Smith said. Unfortunately, Mike had to be placed on (season-ending) injured reserve last year and didnt have an opportunity to come out and compete, missed time in training camp last year, so its going to be very important.
I think its going to be a very competitive offseason, not only on the offensive line, but across the board. I think youll see a stepped-up attitude from the coaches. Even though its May right now, I think youll see the guys are very passionate and ready to go.
Smith used that word passionate twice in just a matter of minutes on Friday while speaking with the media. He also used it to describe Konz. It seems the Falcons are going towards a brawnier approach on the line that might emphasize things like passion as the team had trouble converting key short yardage situations last season.
Peter is a guy that I think is very passionate about the game of football, Smith said of Konz. He likes to be physical and he plays a very physical style of football. Im looking forward to watching him mature and learn our system as we go through this 60-day period we have with the rookies.
He added, Its obvious hes a big strong guy.
Hill is the man charged with implementing the changes on the line. Coming from college, his approach no doubt will differ from that of the salty but effective Boudreau, who has spent the last 25 years in the NFL.
Pats getting acclimated and again he was involved in the draft process and the evaluations, Smith said. Thats something he hasnt done in the last 15 years. He was the head coach at Fresno State, so we wanted to get him exposed to that, again, learning our system. And, again, going from being a head coach to a position coach, you have to worry about some minor, minute details and having a little different focus, but Pats done a great job. The guys love working with him. Hes very collaborative and interactive and I think the guys are going to enjoy working with him.
Konz had had several phone conversations with Hill before arriving at the teams practice facility last Thursday and finally meeting the coaching staffs in person.
We actually played them at Wisconsin, Konz said. He really didnt like us too much back then. I joked around with him. Any time, any place -- thats his old motto. But hes a great guy. Hes been teaching us a lot so far. Im really excited to be under him and absorb all the knowledge I can.
Konz said he and the other rookies were receiving a crash course on the teams playbook during meetings and on the field. If the former three-sport athlete he played AAU basketball, a sign of his athleticism is to make an impact in camp and earn a starting spot, hell have to hit the ground running and have a good grasp of his assignments and the teams plays.
He expects to graduate with a 3.3 grade-point average, so the Falcons will be lucky if his football knowledge is as sharp as his book smarts. Its just one piece of the puzzle, as they attempt to remake their offensive line.