Tice Has High Expectations for New OL

Put yourself in the shoes of Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, who is currently preparing for an imposing New York Giants defense with an offensive-line unit that is minus three of its original starters, Joe Hawley (knee), Lamar Holmes (foot) and Justin Blalock, who Friday was ruled out for Sunday's game, due to a back injury. 

Earlier in the week, the team announced Peter Konz as Hawley's replacement, while Gabe Carimi will fit in at right tackle for Holmes. While the Falcons haven't announced who will start at left guard for Blalock, it's exactly situations like these that they called upon Tice's 17 years of NFL coaching experience, ensuring each of his linemen is always equipped and ready to provide maximum protection for franchise QB Matt Ryan and paving pathways for the team's stable of running backs.

It's not just the number of years Tice has been in the league, but also the players he's coached, including Carimi, while serving as the Bears offensive line coach in 2011. Fast forward to 2014, when Tice has since reunited with Carimi and relied on his versatility, having seen him play four different positions this season.

"I like where he's at physically," Tice said of Carimi. "I've always liked where he's at mentally; he brings a toughness and a work ethic. We're going to be fine with Gabe; a lot of people forget that he was a first-round pick (Chicago's 29th overall pick in 2011) and an Outland Trophy Winner."

Two spots down from Carimi's left will be Konz, who Tice said was drafted a couple of seasons ago to be the next center in Atlanta. Konz's offseason commitment to improving his body has been noticed by his OL coach, who cited the center's added strength and improved balance, hoping each will help protect the pocket and create opportunities in the run game.

"If you look at it realistically, we have two-ones starting at tackle," Tice said of Jake Matthews and Carimi. "A second-round draft pick (Konz) steps in and a first-round draft pick (Carimi) steps in; my expectation is they will play up to the level that the Falcons picked them and where the Bears picked them. ... I'd be very disappointed and insulted if the players that are stepping up this week don't play at a winning level."

As for the team's starting left guard on Sunday, regardless if it's recently-signed Harland Gunn, Ryan Schraeder, James Stone, etc., each player has been in the system since April, when Tice arrived, learning the new schemes and techniques, cross-trained to fill in at any moment injuries occur, embracing the overwhelming mindset of being 'one rep away' until showtime.

"There's a good possibility that I'll be in the game," Gunn said. "The coaches said be ready and just keep doing what I've been doing at practice and if the opportunity presents itself, take advantage."

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