It appears Lamar Holmes is on track to be the Falcons’ offensive right tackle to begin the season.
Holmes and Ryan Schraeder were the candidates to take the place of Mike Johnson, who suffered a season-ending injury early in training camp. Coach Mike Smith said if Holmes doesn’t play all of the snaps with the starters Saturday at Tennessee it will be only because Schraeder needs repetitions there for the team to develop depth. Schraeder is a college free agent who played at Valdosta State.
“Lamar is going to take the majority of the snaps with the first group,” Smith said Thursday. “But we’ve got to be able to have guys who can play on the left and right side, and the way the rotation is going, there is a good chance you’ll see Schraeder at right tackle. Lamar has done a really nice job. Each week he has gotten better.”
Smith typically doesn’t play his starters in the final exhibition game, so Holmes can hold the job with a strong showing against Tennessee.
The Falcons selected Holmes in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Southern Mississippi, and he played only seven snaps from scrimmage as a rookie after missing most of training camp with a foot injury. The Falcons inquired about veteran free agents after Johnson went down, but so far have stuck with Holmes.
“Young guys, when they are forced to get into that role and to be out on the field more, some guys step up,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I think he’s done a great job of that.”
Holmes will face another tough challenge against Tennessee’s Derrick Morgan, a former Georgia Tech standout. Morgan is listed at left defensive end for the Titans.
Holmes, right guard Garrett Reynolds and center Peter Konz are being scrutinized this exhibition season as they take on more prominent roles. The running game struggled in 2012, and the Falcons’ pass-heavy offense requires effective protection for Ryan to distribute the ball to the team’s many accomplished skill players.
In last week’s exhibition game at Baltimore, Ryan had to throw several passes early and took too many hits.
“I think those guys are getting better,” Ryan said. “Garrett is a guy who’s played for us. He started 10- or 12-plus games for us. He’s a guy that continues to get better. Lamar is a guy that is coming into his own.”
Showing up: Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux’s strength is his ability to find his way into the backfield and alter plays, both running and passing. Smith said Babineaux has shown in two exhibition games that he’s ready to keep doing it as he enters his ninth season.
“I thought Jonathan played very well against Baltimore,” Smith said. “He was really disruptive, getting in the backfield. His first few years in the league he was one of the leading (tackles for loss) guys in the league. He can be disruptive. I don’t think he was as disruptive last year, but I think these first two games showed that he’s feeling good.”
Speed test: After facing relatively plodding running backs in the first two exhibition games, the Falcons’ starting defense likely will see several runs by speedy back Chris Johnson.
“We have not faced a runner that has his speed,” Smith said. “It will be important for the defense to play with leverage. He may start right and will come all the way back left. He’s got great speed, great vision. He’s more of an elusive runner and not a north-south runner.”
Smith said he’s also been impressed with Titans reserve running back Shonn Greene, who is “more of a downhill runner, between the tackles.”
Plain vanilla: With training camp having ended Sunday, the Falcons have prepared this week as if it were the regular season. The offense and defense practiced against scout teams that emulated the Titans, and the coaches studied Tennessee to come up with a game plan.
That’s where the emulation of the regular season ends, though.
“We would like to see how the guys handle specific situations that we game-planned for,” Smith said. “But we are not going to show, like Tennessee is not going to show, things we will do during the regular season.”