Atlanta's Right Answer
When the Falcons decided to make a saving by releasing super-reliable right tackle, Tyson Clabo, they knew there would be consequences. They still did it, though — feeling that one of their young candidates would come through and lessen any drop-off.
After a severe injury to Mike Johnson it looks like that man is going to have to be Lamarr Holmes.
Johnson, the former Alabama offensive linemen, has failed to make much of an impact since being drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft. Before 2012 he hadn’t even made it onto the field as he battled adapting to the NFL and injuries. Last year, however, he was bumped up to the role of sixth lineman and got onto the field for 117 snaps (with eight of those in the playoffs).
That makes him the veteran of the right tackle competition. He has 16.7 times as much experience in the NFL as Holmes (who only had seven snaps, all as a sixth lineman in the rout of the Giants). But with only 10 of Johnson’s snaps coming at right tackle, he was far from a sure thing.
Indeed, for all the talk of the duo coming out of camp, the Falcons were left hoping and wondering as to how their right tackle spot would shake out. In a strange way, the injury to Johnson may force their hand to look at some of the veterans out there and at least kick the tires. So let’s have a look at four who might get a call.
Depending on how far recovered Locklear is from the ACL tear that ended his season in Week 13, he might be the ideal candidate. The veteran tackle was with the Giants last year and performed reasonably well in his 656 snaps, particularly in pass protection.
That’s generally been a theme for Locklear the past four years where, despite getting little push in the run game, he is handy when it comes to slowing pass rushers. Nine sacks allowed over the past three years isn’t a terrible total considering how much he has played. The big question remains, though… how far recovered is he?
Injuries haven’t been kind to Brown the past few years. Add in the fact he missed all of 2012 with a hip injury and you have to wonder if he’ll ever make it back onto an NFL field. What’s more, his performance in 2011 hardly filled you with much hope, instead indicating he was a player on the decline. Nine sacks, five hits and 29 quarterback hurries allowed on 463 pass blocks gave him the fifth-worst Pass Blocking Efficiency score.
Naturally, the market for tackles is extremely depleted at this stage, and Brown, while a sub-par tackle, isn’t as bad as some of the guys out there. That’s the worst-case scenario if he’s healthy.
When the Jets replaced Damien Woody with Wayne Hunter their line suffered. Badly. Hunter wasn’t up to the task of replacing one of the most consistent right tackles in the PFF era and he struggled in 2011 — so much so that he would finish as the sixth-lowest-ranked tackle in our grades.
That saw the Jets write him off and many others as well. But here’s the thing: he wasn’t nearly as bad in St Louis. Aided by a quicker passing attack he actually acquitted himself reasonably well at left tackle before injury saw his play slip off against Miami. He wasn’t a completely new player, but he was a better one. Much like Brown, he may be below average but if Holmes isn’t up to the task, he may be enough of an upgrade that the Falcons’ offense isn’t shutdown before it gets going.
This won’t happen for a lot of reasons. Gaither won’t want to play on the right side. He’ll want more money than any team is willing to give him. And the Falcons won’t trust him after his time in San Diego.
But he’s easily the best tackle out on the market which makes it such a shame that “GameDay” is unlikely to see much of the field next year. We’re not talking about a good tackle here, we’re talking about a guy who has as high a ceiling as any offensive linemen and is still just 27 years old. Here’s a guy who came in at the end of 2011 for five starts and only gave up three hurries for the Chargers.
That kind of production is hard to achieve. It’s an ideal scenario for the Falcons picking him up, but it’s the longest of long shots.
The reality is that in regards to these linemen there’s good reason they’re still available. Injury, lack of upside, and commitment issues plague them all and it’s why the Falcons’ efforts to sign one might leave a lot of head scratching in Flowery Branch. The solution might be an internal one if they think the 6-foot-8 Garrett Reynolds could provide cover, but then that leaves all sorts of lineup shaking as they’d need to replace him at right guard.
No, to me it’s pretty clear… Atlanta needs to find themselves a veteran to provide some solid depth in case Holmes isn’t up to the task or goes down. It’s why I’d be kicking those tires on Sean Locklear to see just how healthy he is now.
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