On the surface, the 2013 season would appear to be like any other year for Justin Blalock. The left guard is penciled in as a starter once again and looks to keep his streak of games started alive. If he can stay healthy, this season will mark the sixth straight season the '07 second-round pick will start 16 games and his 94 consecutive games started is second on the team's active list.
That's what is the same, but it's the things that are different this year that Blalock is most aware of.
For starters, he won't be lining up next to the center he's played alongside for his entire career. Todd McClure's 13-year career came to an end earlier this year when he announced his retirement. One of the significant training camp battles this year will take place in McClure's old spot with second-year lineman and Joe Hawley competing at center.
Blalock sees a positive regardless of who wins the job because both have experience at the position and should keep the job in good hands. Hawley has started 12 games in his career and Konz stepped in at right guard last season for 10 games, after being selected in the 2012 draft as a center from Wisconsin. Should Konz win the job, Blalock will need to help serve as a guide for the O-line's most cerebral position. Regardless of the winner, training camp is about getting the physical aspect of your game down after the offseason. Furthermore, Blalock and his mates are building the connection needed to work in tandem, five players operating as one.
"Along the offensive line there's a lot to be said for continuity, cohesion and things of that nature that can't be taught or coached or anything like that," Blalock said. "So that's why we're out here trying to build the rapport, whether it is Peter or Joe. We're trying to get to a point where we can communicate nonverbally and try to think in a similar fashion so that when we step on the field on a Sunday afternoon we can have some type of communication out there."
With no scheme change or altering of assignments from last year to now, Blalock doesn't anticipate a large drop off in performance at center. Both have the necessary experience and are capable; all that's needed is experience making the protection calls.
"It's going to be tough for whoever it is because we rely on the center to make the lion's share of the calls up front," Blalock said. "Everyone does pitch in where applicable, but most of it falls on the center. Both Peter and Joe have played enough games in this league so they know what's going on. It's just a matter of getting them to a point where they're comfortable week in and week out going through game plans."
This season also marks a turning point in offensive line leadership, and Blalock and is at the head of it. With McClure and other veterans on the line gone, the award for elder goes to the 29-year-old Blalock. He knew that point would come in his career, or he hoped it would. In the past few seasons, he's been in the middle of the pack in age and experience inside the O-line meeting rooms, but now he's the leader and he's seen younger players look to him for guidance and expectations.
He also gets to run the projector in film sessions, which he's excited about, and as veteran leader of the line, he makes the final determinations regarding what snacks will be supplied by the rookies for each meeting. "Yeah, pretty much whatever I say goes in there," Blalock said. "Short of the coach, of course."