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 after the retirement of Todd McClure, Konz will be grateful for that experience when Atlanta opens the regular season Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
“One of the main things I learned was staying calm,” Konz said Sunday. “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.”
The Falcons went 13-3 last year and earned a No. 1 playoff seed as quarterback Matt 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 both playoff games.
Now that running back Steven Jackson, the NFL’s career-leading active rusher, has replaced Michael Turner, Atlanta hopes to cure its woes, but Konz’s focus in training camp is on himself and the offensive line.
“I think it’s coming along right now,” Konz said. “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 injury.
Left guard Justin Blalock, the longest-tenured Atlanta lineman entering his seventh season, believes Konz’s off-season work gave him a head start heading into training camp.
Blalock says 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.”
Nonverbal communication is important, too, particularly on the road when crowd noise forces Ryan to use a silent snap count.
“There will be times when maybe things just happen too quickly before the snap and there’s not time to speak,” Blalock said. “Even during a play sometimes with the way physically that you control a block, there are a lot of intricate details, but he’s doing a great job so far. That’s why we’re out here busting our butts so we can get up to speed.”
Konz helped his cause physically by using free weights more than kettle bells in the offseason. He also ran more to improve his endurance.
“I’m bigger,” he said. “I keep trying to improve on that and also to get functional strength. When it comes to the third and fourth quarters, we expect our team to be even better than last year.”