FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Peter Konz had his proverbial baptism by fire as a rookie, starting 12 games at right guard for the Atlanta Falcons.
Now that he’s the starting center following the retirement of Todd McClure, a former LSU standout, Konz will be grateful for that experience when Atlanta opens the regular season Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
McClure, who played all 14 of his seasons in Atlanta, set a franchise record with 148 consecutive starts and missed only four games over the last 12 seasons.
“One of the main things I learned was staying calm,” Konz said. “It’s easy to have your head spinning in your first game and kind of freeze in the lights, as they say, but having that experience and playoff experience, especially, lets you know what level you have to play at every day.”
There’s still much to learn, particularly in making the right calls to keep quarterback Matt Ryan upright and clear space for running back Steven Jackson.
The Falcons went 13-3 last year and earned a No. 1 playoff seed as Ryan earned his second Pro Bowl invitation and led the league in completion percentage, but the rushing attack struggled in short-yardage situations and faltered in the second half of both playoff games.
“I think it’s coming along right now,” Konz said. “Everybody is friends. Everybody is communicating really well. I think we just need to keep feeling each other out, know how we block, know how we react and that will make us a better unit.”
Konz, a second-round draft pick last year, was a three-year starting center before leaving Wisconsin as a junior, but the Falcons slid him in at right guard when Garrett Reynolds suffered a season-ending back injury last fall.
Coach Mike Smith said Konz did his job well enough that the Falcons never hesitated to make him the starting center.
“I think it was a learning experience for Peter to know what the guy next to him is doing on both sides,” Smith said. “Peter is a very smart, intelligent player, and we’re asking a lot of him, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in his athleticism and his will and his passion.”
Left guard Justin Blalock, said Konz’s offseason work on the field, in the classroom and the weight room gave him a head start heading into training camp.
Blalock said Konz is still figuring out how to identify blitzes and shifts along the defensive front.
“Sam Baker, Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson and myself have been around the block a time or two and we’ve seen some things, but a lot of that, honestly, will be on him,” Blalock said. “He’s doing a great job so far.”
He’s a very heady guy, so I don’t anticipate any problems there.”