FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The water break was over, and 35-year-old Todd McClure had his No. 62 jersey at the front of the pack of the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive players returning to the field in Tuesday’s practice.
For a rookie like Peter Konz, it’s an important lesson. Even with a heavy brace on his right knee, McClure finds a way to run instead of walk because leading is his natural role.
“The best example,” Konz said of McClure.
McClure, Atlanta’s starting center since 2000, is beginning his 13th season with the team. He said Tuesday he hasn’t decided if this will be his final season. Just in case, he says he is savoring every moment — even training camp in the Georgia heat and humidity.
“I’ve always kind of approached it like that in my mindset,” McClure said. “In this league, you never know when it’s going to be your last day, so it’s nothing new. “
McClure was only a seventh-round pick by Atlanta in 1999. The center has started 166 of his 168 games with the Falcons.
“To me it’s just something that’s amazing,” Konz said of McClure’s endurance. “You know how your body feels after a game and to go through (12) years of that in the NFL, and you add on the four years in college and four years in high school, and you’re looking at a guy who has seen everything.”
Konz, a second-round pick from Wisconsin, may eventually take over for McClure at center. Konz could play at right guard and center this season.
The rookie will have at least one season to take notes from McClure.
“You’ve got to have guys like that,” said coach Mike Smith. “… You’ve got to have those mentors in every room and that’s something we look at when we’re putting our roster together.”
Smith challenged the offensive line by opening up competition at every position. McClure appears to be set as a starter.
“Todd has done a great job for us since we’ve been here and anticipate that he will continue to do what he’s done in the past,” Smith said.
Konz is competing with Garrett Reynolds at right guard and with Hawley behind McClure. Another position to watch in training camp is left tackle, where Sam Baker is working ahead of Will Svitek.
Rookie third-round pick Lamar Holmes is another contender at left tackle. Holmes was behind at the start of training camp after missing the offseason workouts while recovering from a foot injury.
Tuesday’s first-string offensive line included right tackle Tyson Clabo, Reynolds at right guard, McClure, left guard Justin Blalock and Baker.
The Falcons (No. 13 in the AP Pro32) are preparing for Thursday night’s preseason opener against Baltimore.
McClure said he’s looking forward to “just showcasing what we’re doing” with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
“I know the whole playbook won’t be opened up,” he said. “It’s the first preseason game. But to go out there and see the work we’ve been putting in on the practice field in a game is going to be fun to watch.”