With competition brewing all over Atlanta's offensive line, the center position is one where things are heating up. Veteran center Todd McClure is currently penciled in as the starter on the depth chart, but Joe Hawley is getting more opportunities to impress the coaches.
Hawley, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, started the first two games of last season at center while McClure nursed an injury. In Week 9, Hawley made the full-time switch to right guard to help strengthen the line. This season, most of Hawley's reps have come at center as he competes with McClure for the right to snap the ball to quarterback Matt Ryan.
McClure and Hawley are rotating a lot of snaps with the starting offensive linemen lately with increased frequency. Against the Ravens last week, McClure started the game as Ryan's center, but Hawley took over on the second series and finished out the first quarter, totaling three possessions as the center under Ryan.
Head coach Mike Smith says the veteran McClure's snaps are being monitored to ensure he stays healthy.
"Todd is one of those guys that we have on a management program," Smith said. "His snaps are going to be monitored. He and Tony (Gonzalez) are the guys who have the most restrictions in terms of the number of snaps they are going to get, not only in practice but in preseason games. Those guys have been around a long time. That is really why you are seeing Joe and Mud Duck (McClure), basically splitting those reps. We have a certain amount of snaps we want Todd to get each and every day."
Throughout camp Smith has said he's not just looking for the five best starters for his offensive line, but he's also searching for the best overall unit, based on a combination of individual performance and ability to play as a team. The coach said recently he believes there are as many as 12 players that he feels have an opportunity to grab one of the nine offensive linemen roster spots.