There are more than a few examples of cross training that have occurred along the Falcons offensive line. In past seasons, that training at multiple positions has proved valuable with a limited number of linemen available on game days.
Last season's second-round pick was center Peter Konz, but his cross training at guard allowed him to step in for Garrett Reynolds when the right guard went down for the season. Reynolds himself was drafted as a tackle out of UNC, but his cross training at guard led to a starting job in 2011. Joe Hawley was drafted as a center and has started for the Falcons at both guard and center since 2009.
This year's right tackle battle pits Mike Johnson against Lamar Holmes. Drafted last season as a tackle, Holmes has spent most of his time in the NFL learning the right tackle position and has shown enough to give the Falcons coaching staff reason to believe he can compete to start this year. Johnson has already said he’s ready for his shot and his experience with playing all offensive line positions in college helped him as he joined the Falcons in 2010 and immediately began cross training at tackle and guard.
Johnson said the major difference between defending the edge and defending the interior is leverage and space. The quicker a pass rusher can get on top of a tackle, the more likely he is to win that one-on-one. His time learning both positions at the NFL level gives him a global perspective of pass protection and he's able to use learnings from both positions to help him now at right tackle.
"You have to keep leverage and a lot of times those guys on the inside, they're good athletes but they're in a small space," Johnson said. "When you get on the edge you have to use space to your advantage and use leverage to your advantage."
At guard, there is much less space for defenders to plan an attack. While quickness is necessary on the outside to defend the oncoming speed of rushers, inside, things are much more immediate.
"At guard things happen fast," offensive line coach Pat Hill said. "They're right on top of you."
Hill said both positions require you to be comfortable in your technique, and he agreed with Johnson that the difference in space is the primary difference in guard and tackle. In pass protection especially, Hill said, the distance between a defender and an offensive tackle is greater, but once contact is made, it's the same as the action at guard.
It's what happens in the distance between the two players on the edge that makes tackle a huge challenge and Hill said in that distance so much can happen. Johnson spent the offseason honing his footwork and entering his fourth season, his time spent all over the line has helped him tremendously. With a starting job up for grabs, it looks like the Falcons' cross-training theories could once again come in handy.