It appears that Todd McClure's franchise record of 144 consecutive starts will end when the Falcons step on the field in Week 1 against Chicago.
Atlanta head coach Mike Smith shared on Wednesday that McClure, who had minor knee surgery on Monday, will not be available for the season opener.
"He has been ruled out for that game," Smith said. "We hope to have a better idea in terms of his rehabilitation. The procedure went well. He's in very good spirits and if there's anybody that can get back quicker than the timeline they lay out it's Todd McClure. I've got all the confidence in that."
In the meantime, second-year center Joe Hawley has been working with the first team and will be ready to start. He credits McClure as a mentor and a major factor in helping him be ready to start for Atlanta.
"Without Todd, I wouldn't be where I am today," Hawley said. "He's helped me a lot. He answered all my questions and watching last year, behind him, watching how he plays, I learned a lot."
Hawley will be the second first-time starter added to the offensive line this season. Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson are still in a heated competition for the right guard position. Everyone else returning this season was a full-time starter last year. Hawley doesn't believe there will be much of a drop off having two first-timers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder on the line.
"We've been playing in practice and the comraderie is there," he said. "We all know each other really well. We're tight with each other so it's not like there's a new fit. The gelling has already happened so we're good there."
Working with the veteran McClure has also given Hawley the confidence to help manage the line calls—traditionally a center's job—based on what he's seeing from the defense. He believes it's a strength of his now. The young center has been able to get a lot of time in with quarterback Matt Ryan to practice the snap. He's working hard to get ready for Chicago, but he doesn't believe the exchange from himself to Ryan will be an issue at all.
"It's kind of like a second nature thing, you don't really think about it," he said. "We have a lot of different snap counts and that's one thing we've worked on, but the exchange has been fine. I haven't had to worry about it."
In and Out:Coach updated the injury situation on Wednesday. Despite losing McClure for the beginning of the season, his team has experienced relatively good health.
The coach confirmed that defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, defensive tackle Corey Peters and cornerback Dunta Robinson will not play in Thursday's game.
Smith hinted that he may handle the expected snap counts of his players a little differently this season, due to the lack of offseason conditioning. Traditionally the final game of the preseason is when backups compete for final roster positions. This year may be a little different.
"Right now our thought is that we would like to get everybody some action in the game," Smith said. "Different guys are going to play different amounts. That's really no different than what we've done in the first three preseason games. We'd like to try to get everybody in and it may not happen, but that's the plan right now."
Re: Super Bowl:It was mentioned earlier today that the Falcons are Peter King's picks to win the Super Bowl. The Falcons have responded and they're not listening too much.
"We've got to take it one at a time, starting with this week," Harry Douglas said. "We've still got one more preseason game to finish up. After that we'll focus on the regular season. All we have to do is take it one game at a time, focus on the details and we'll be alright."
More than a few said they couldn't get too caught up in what "the papers" say. Instead of believing their own hype, they know they have to go out and prove it.
Even though King's prediction of the final two teams was correct last season, they're not hearing it. Smith appreciated the compliment but will leave that sort of talk to everyone else.
"Well, that's the great conversation for you guys and for the radio people," he said. "I can assure you, our focus and my focus is first getting this game Thursday and then getting ready to put our roster together for the regular season. Preparation for Chicago is going to start real soon. That's the way we're going to approach it, but for everybody else, it gives them something to talk about."