For 13 seasons the Falcons were fortunate to have Todd McClure, affectionately called Mud Duck, as a leader and a reliable center. Fans remember McClure for his outstanding leadership both inside the locker room and on the field. However, it is not only his guidance that sets him apart from other veterans who have played with the Falcons, but also the consistency McClure maintained from his rookie year in 1999 until his retirement in 2012.
Throughout his career with the Falcons, starting at center and playing under a series of coaching staffs, McClure was repeatedly challenged to keep his starting position. With retirement approaching and only having missed four games in his entire career, McClure broke Keith Brooking's franchise record with 144 consecutive starts that ended with a brief injury in 2011. He did not play in his 1999 rookie season due to a knee injury, but remained a reliable and viable starter over the last 13 seasons.
Due to the fact that Matt Ryan has avoided serious injury in his five seasons is a testament to the protection and leadership abilities of McClure.
"He was a great teammate and a great guy in the locker room," said Ryan about his former center. "You miss his personality around here."
Ryan is also confident in the players that have stepped up in place of McClure, although no one will ever replace him completely.
Players on defense are also affected by McClure's absence.
"To us, Todd was a leader," said defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. "He was with the Falcons for a long time and just having his leadership and experience every day in the locker room made it a lot easier on guys."
Not only are the players learning to play without the veteran center, but the Falcons coaching staff will also have to find a way to replace the communication bridge that McClure held between the coaches and the players.
"For any team in the NFL, the center position is a very, very vital position," said offensive line coach Paul Dunn. "We were just fortunate to have Todd here for so long. Between him and (Jeff) Van Note, this organization has probably spent 85 percent of our existence with two centers. Mud Duck went into his (13th season) and Jeff Van Note went 18. Maybe we're going to be fortunate enough to have a guy that develops in this camp right here that might develop into the next McClure or Van Note."
It had not been set in stone who will be replacing McClure as offseason minicamp got under way in June.
"Right now, it's a competition between Peter Konz and Joe Hawley," Dunn said then. "That's pretty much been all the way through and they're in direct competition with one another. Both of them have a number of starts underneath their belts. It's not like they're going to come out and line up in our first home game next year and have first-game jitters. They've been through that before. We're fortunate to have two experienced veterans that are battling and are in good competition throughout camp."
Konz was drafted in 2012 and has impressed teammates with his leadership abilities thus far — all but winning out the starting center position after two preseason games.
"Peter Konz has done a great job for a young guy," said Ryan. "I think he's a very mature guy, works very hard, and is very detailed in his work. I think he stepped right into that (leadership) role as a center. It just kind of comes naturally playing that position."
Replacing McClure on the field is inevitable, but his leadership in the locker room will take more time. Instead of retiring the jerseys of the players who are worthy of this honor, the Falcons organization places former players in the Ring of Honor on a banner hung from the rafters of the Georgia Dome. McClure may eventually join Van Note in the Falcons Ring of Honor for the vital role he played for Atlanta during the course of his 13 seasons.