When the Falcons released former starting right tackle Tyson Clabo in early April, it was a bit of a surprise move and as a result, many assumed the Falcons would focus on the offensive line during the draft.
In the offseason, the Falcons re-signed left tackle Sam Baker and right guard Garrett Reynolds. Both were starters last season and they return to solidify a line changed with the retirement of Todd McClure and the release of Clabo.
Baker played every snap last season that the offense was on the field and Reynolds started the first six games of the season in 2012 before an injury took him out. He enters his fifth season this year and the 2009 fifth-round pick figures to be the favorite to win the starting right guard position again this year.
Last year's second-round pick, Peter Konz, took over for Reynolds when he went down and is the probable favorite to win the center position, stepping in behind the veteran McClure, who exits after 13 seasons.
The Falcons only selected two offensive players in the draft last week and none were linemen. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said Saturday night when the draft ended that offensive line was never the plan in this year's draft.
"In our mind, our focus wasn't to be on the offensive line this year in the draft; it was about continuing to build this defense," Dimitroff said.
The biggest concern on paper for most is the right tackle position. Mike Johnson, a third-round pick in 2010, saw valuable time as the team's swing tackle last year and figures to compete with second-year lineman Lamar Holmes for the tackle position vacated by Clabo. Clabo's shoes are tough to fill, but the Falcons like their youth there and they know it's time to give the guys they've drafted to protect quarterback Matt Ryan a chance to compete, play and protect.
"We have a lot of veterans on this football team," Dimitroff said. "We were one of the oldest teams last year. We knew we had to make an effort to add some youth to this team and develop the youth, not just bring in the youth and let them sit on the back bench."
Joe Hawley, a fourth-round pick in 2010, has been a valued backup and part-time starter in the last few seasons and he joins Konz, Reynolds, Homes and Johnson as guys with chance in training camp to win a full-time job. The Falcons GM said now is the time for the guys they've used priority draft picks on in the last few seasons to step up and step in.
"It's time for our offensive line to continue to take that step forward," Dimitroff said. "We need to continue to develop them and we need to have the confidence in them to line up and block for 2 (Ryan), block for our running backs and create the formidable wall that we envision when we brought these guys in."
The Falcons still have the veteran Justin Blalock at left guard, a consistent and reliable player who hasn't missed a start in five seasons. They also have Jacques McClendon, Harland Gunn, Phillipkeith Manley, Theo Goins, Alec Savoie, Matt Smith and Terren Jones to compete along the offensive line during this year's training camp.