Rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz, a second-round draft pick out of Wisconsin,i s making a case already to be a starter.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Coach Mike Smith likes what he’s seen from one of the Atlanta Falcons’ two high-profile rookie offensive linemen.
Peter Konz, a second-round draft pick from Wisconsin, looked the part of a potential NFL starter as the Falcons opened a three-day rookie minicamp Friday.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, tackle Lamar Holmes, a third-round pick from Southern Mississippi, wore a protective boot on his left foot and was not cleared to participate on the field this weekend.
Holmes’ injury, which Smith described as minor but declined to address specifically, was discovered during a post-draft physical. The Falcons drafted the 6-foot-6, 333-pound Holmes to push Sam Baker and Will Svitek for the starting job at left tackle.
“It’s more precautionary right now,” Smith said. “We’ll try to get him back out here. I think it will be closer to when we start our (team-wide offseason training activities) at the end of the month.”
Of 46 players participating in the minicamp, only five or six will make the final 53-man roster before the Falcons open the season Sept. 9 at Kansas City. Jobs will be few for a team that went 10-6 last year and likely will be picked in preseason to win the NFC South.
Friday’s 1-hour, 20-minute workout was a small sample size, but Konz’s performance led Smith to believe the 6-6, 317-pound lineman will challenge Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynolds for the starting job at right guard.
Konz is expected to push Hawley the No. 2 spot behind starting center Todd McClure, too.
“He’s being cross-trained at two positions,” Smith said. “He spent most of his day at the guard positions, but he also took some snaps. It’s obvious he’s a big, strong guy.”
Konz could not deny that his head was swimming with new vocabulary and new responsibilities, but added that he felt comfortable.
“They threw us the playbook and said, ‘Go memorize it at home, get in there and learn as much as you can as fast as you can,’ because they’re just installing for three days,” Konz said. “This is all stuff you might have had at whatever school you were at, but it’s all different names.”
Konz likes having fullback Bradie Ewing, a fifth-round pick, working alongside him. Both were teammates at Wisconsin and say they enjoyed a relationship outside football.
“We’re very good friends,” Konz said. “We’re just the same — just alike, religious people — guys who always try to do the right thing and be team leaders.”
Ewing will try to win the fullback job that came open earlier this week when Ovie Mughelli, a five-year starter and former Pro Bowl selection, was released to create salary cap space.
Mughelli’s departure means that Mike Cox is likely to open next month’s mandatory minicamp as the starter. Cox signed a two-year contract with the Falcons last October and played a big role in the final 10 games after a knee injury ended Mughelli’s season.
“When you have to make decisions on your roster, it’s always tough especially with a guy that’s helped and contributed to the success that we’ve had,” Smith said. “It was an organizational decision, and we wish Ovie the best. We’ve got to move on. The roster is always changing.”
Smith is encouraged that Ewing can give quarterback Matt Ryan a dependable receiving option from the backfield.
“He doesn’t have the statistics in college as far as running the football, so you think he’s basically a lead blocker and that’s all he does,” Smith said. “He catches the football and does it very well.”
Ewing is looking forward to meeting Ryan, running back Michael Turner and the other veterans when the rookies report for offseason conditioning workouts on Tuesday. He knows his new teammates were fond of Mughelli, but expects to receive a warm welcome regardless.
“I know that’s the NFL and that’s the way the business works,” Ewing said. “I’m just going to do what I control and come out and do the things I can do — come out and work every day, get in the playbook, get in the right mindset and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
Secondary coach Tim Lewis was impressed with what he saw from safety Charles Mitchell, a sixth-round pick from Mississippi State. Mitchell is expected to battle Shann Schillinger for the No. 3 safety job behind starters William Moore and Thomas DeCoud.
“We try to overload (the rookies) a little bit and find out how much they can handle in a three-day period,” Lewis said. “(Mitchell) doesn’t look like it’s going to bother him too much. He’s picked up a lot of the terminology and communication, but that’s the biggest thing is making sure he learns the language and gets comfortable with the language so he can let his athletic ability flow.”
FALCONS HELP OUT ATLANTA COMMUNITY:
ATLANTA — Just two miles west of the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Falcons are bringing hope to one of the city's most troubled zip codes.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank joined 180 volunteers from his family businesses recently to improve conditions in a neighborhood — “The 30314” — that has too many problems to overcome by itself.
Tony Johns, COO of the nonprofit City of Refuge, says no community in Georgia has a higher rate of homicides, drug transactions, poverty and children from single-adult homes. Only 49 percent of the neighborhood's high school kids graduate.
“A lot of markers here, along with having the highest rate of infectious diseases and highest infant mortality,” Johns said. “In fact, our infant mortality rate is higher than many African nations.”
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and his entire staff worked to double the size of the City of Refuge's garden space, build an indoor playground in the nonprofit's warehouse and improve onsite residences for single women and approximately 80 homeless children.
Smith helped build benches and haul mulch. Dimitroff and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan helped construct and raise a retaining wall.
Team president Rich McKay helped paint a wall mural for a 6,000-square-foot indoor playground funded by a $60,000 grant from Blank's foundation.
No players were present, but that hardly affected the spirit of Dimitroff, who just one week ago was immersed in the NFL draft.
“Yes, you're doing everything involved with putting a team together — the financial side and personnel side — and then you jump outside into something like this, it's so incredibly heartwarming,” Dimitroff said. “It's something that touches everyone at so many levels.”
Local businesses Coca-Cola, GE Energy, Georgia Pacific and the Atlanta Hawks have brought plenty of volunteers for previous work days at City of Refuge. But Johns had never seen so many projects started and finished in one day, thanks in part to help from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and his staff.
“I have to say this is the largest effort we've had to date,” said Johns, who joined the nonprofit in 1997. “We've had more volunteers, but this has been our biggest development yet.”
Two years after launching a regional fan promotion that featured movie star Samuel L. Jackson, the Falcons have expanded their "Rise Up" campaign to raise awareness for volunteer service by partnering with Hands on Atlanta, one of the nation's largest community-based volunteer service organizations.
Thursday was the first day that Falcons fans could log on to RiseUpAtlanta.com to sign up for a variety of volunteer opportunities. The team promised a free T-shirt to those who sign up and attend a volunteer activity.
Efforts can't come soon enough in the neighborhood. Just there blocks from City of Refuge on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, Johns says a major corridor for heroin usage and trafficking has emerged.
"It's a crisis of resources right now because of the lack of investment," Johns said. "So a day like today, when the for-profit world and government agencies make an investment in an underserved, under-resourced community, it makes a big difference."