When the Falcons' 2013 season kicks off in New Orleans, a new face will be protecting quarterback Matt Ryan's right side.
The competition between Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes for the team's starting right tackle position has taken place throughout the offseason and will continue well into training camp. It's unclear if there's a player with the clubhouse lead on that side of the offensive line, but Johnson does have an edge in experience over Holmes.
Johnson, a third-round pick in 2010, has been one of the reserve linemen for the last few seasons and during that time he's gained valuable experience cross training at both tackle and guard in addition to playing a pass catcher out of Atlanta's jumbo goal line sets.
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"In the past when they had him playing both guard and tackle, it's been great for him because it gives him a better understanding of the total picture and I think that will help him," offensive line coach Pat Hill said Wednesday. "…Now he's starting to really get himself honed into that tackle position."
Johnson said the tackle position is a bit different from playing guard, but he entered the league with experience at both places. He started four different positions during his All-American days at Alabama so moving around as the Falcons have asked him to do during his career is nothing new and he's learned the value of versatility from a player's perspective.
Although he continues to cross train, as do many fellow line mates, it appears right tackle is where Johnson will get his primary shot, a position vacated by former Pro Bowl tackle Tyson Clabo. Hill said young players eventually have to get in-game reps to fully develop into a starting caliber player and this coming season could be the year that Johnson's snap count goes up.
"He's got to get game experience like they all do," Hill said. "All young players need game experience."
Johnson joins a host of young players that have watched veterans man the line for a few seasons. In addition to Johnson and Holmes, Phillipkeith Manley returns this season with a shot at a roster spot and has been cross training at left tackle in addition to guard. Peter Konz and Joe Hawley are two more young players that have been the depth for the Falcons in recent seasons and more is going to be expected of them this season.
Johnson thinks the young guys are ready to put their learning into action.
"We're ready to get our shot at things," he said. "I've been here three years and whatever I can do to help the team moving forward is what I'll do."