For a practice squad guy, Jose Valdez has quite a following.
Sometimes the players on the practice squad spend one year with a team before they are replaced with better talent or leave for greener pastures. The 2009 undrafted tackle from Arkansas has spent two seasons on the practice squad and has used it to its fullest advantage. In the meantime, there's a faction of Falcons fans out there that believe he's a diamond in the rough.
While the tackle has never seen action in the regular season, he's been plenty active every day at practices, working against the likes of Kroy Biermann and Chauncey Davis. That lack of game action doesn't slow down Valdez. He knows where he fits in.
"I know the pace," he said Monday morning. "I know I haven't played in a regular season game, but I know what to do. The speed of everything, it's all easier. Not having OTAs, yeah it hurts me, too, but at least I know what to expect in the long run."
Valdez joined the team as a wide-eyed rookie with short hair and experience blocking for an explosive running game back at Arkansas. Now three years into an NFL-training and conditioning program, the 6-foot-6, 324-pound tackle is chiseled and looks the part. He's also got a shaggy hairdo that lends a resemblance to The Incredible Hulk, never a bad comparison for a man in his line of work.
Over time, Valdez has taken up positions all over the line, but this season many of his reps are coming by backing up starting left tackle Sam Baker. Each side of the line requires slightly different demands from the body, especially the use of your hands.
"I'm right-handed, so my right hand is a lot more dominant," he said. "Then I switch to the left, my left hand I've got to be able to use it, too. That's one thing that is stressed on me, use your hands, get them up. Get low and anchor down. Stuff like that and over time practice helps me out."
The experience on the line among the starters is also something Valdez has used to his advantage. He takes a little from both starting tackles for the Falcons, Baker and right tackle Tyson Clabo. He has a particular admiration for Clabo because the 2010 Pro Bowler followed a similar path to the NFL that Valdez is blazing, the undrafted route.
"Clabo, he's taken time with me and showed me a lot of things," he said. "I've learned many things from him, also from Sam. Sam's got great feet. Clabo's just real smart about the game. They teach me a lot."
Studying Clabo will do anything but hurt the young man. He sees an opportunity in front of him, just as Clabo did with the Falcons back in 2005. The young tackle is making the most of heightened expectations for him this season.
"With us letting Harvey go, it opened up a spot," he said. "It's time to compete and get that spot. I've sat out and watched and learned. Now it's time to get up and go. It's time now. The future is now."