In the 1990s, when Pat Hill coached the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line, it was much easier to settle position battles.
“There was a lot more contact,” Hill said after OTAs last week. “It was a different era. Plus, there were two-a-days. We don’t have that many opportunities to go live to the whistle. Now, we don’t get a lot of great contact.
That makes it difficult for Hill and Paul Dunn, the Falcons’ offensive line coaches, who are charged with revamping the line for 2013.
Three positions are up for grabs: center, right guard and right tackle.
Offseason OTAs and minicamp will not provide much help in determining the winners of the position battles.
“We’re running around in our underwear right now,” Dunn said. “It’s been pretty competitive. We are just going to see where the chips fall at the end of the day and go from there. We’re very excited about the competition that’s going on. We anticipate that it will continue through OTAs, minicamp and (training) camp.”
Hill has targeted the training-camp practices against the Cincinnati Bengals and the first two exhibition games against the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
“The Bengals have a good front, and Baltimore has a good front,” Hill said. “We need live game experience. We’ll have four good shots to look at it, and that will be important.”
At center, Peter Konz appears to be the favorite to beat out Joe Hawley. Konz, who started 10 games last season, is working with the first unit.
“Joe and Peter both have considerable starts, but they don’t have as many starts as (Jeff) Van Note and (Todd) McClure (past Falcons greats at the position),” Dunn said. “Now, if one of those guys will develop into another Van Note or a McClure, then the franchise will be in pretty good hands for the next 17 or 18 years.”
At right guard, Garrett Reynolds appears to be a shaky incumbent. He could lose the job to Mike Johnson or Konz, if Konz loses his battle with Hawley. Phillipkeith Manley, once considered a contender, has dropped back into the pack after returning overweight.
At right tackle, Johnson is working with the first team, but Lamar Holmes is expected to make a mighty push.
Hill and Dunn are looking for the right combination because the front line has to work in unison. That hasn’t been a problem over the past five years because only the right guard position has been primarily manned by different players.
“When you have guys that have played together for a long period of time, not just this team, but any team, they get a feel for each other,” Hill said. “They get their own little language. We’ll have to rotate it for a while until we find the best combination. … The good thing is, we don’t play until September, so we’ve got a lot of time.”
No-huddle attack: The Falcons didn’t use their no-huddle attack as much under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter last season as they did in the previous four seasons under Mike Mularkey.
That may be about to change.
“We are doing a ton of no-huddle now just because it makes you play fast and makes you communicate,” Koetter said. “It makes it where … if you’re running stuff out of the huddle, all coaches or all creatures will say ‘hey, don’t forget to do this.’ When it’s no-huddle, they have to play.”
Or, Koetter may be using the no-huddle as an offseason teaching tool.
“So when you’re working on your no-huddle and you are just working on your communications, I think it helps the players learn faster,” Koetter said. “I think it’s great for everybody. It’s great for the quarterbacks to be able to go through their checks. Everybody has to get the signals. It’s just good work. It’s a smart way to work.”
Action Jackson: Running back Steven Jackson is in the early process of learning the Falcons’ terminology.
“A lot of the runs are similar to what he’s been accustomed to in St. Louis,” running backs coach Gerald Brown said. “I think right now, our terminology, those are the type of things he needs to get up to speed with, but as far as what we do, it is very similar to what he’s done in the past.”
Last season, Michael Turner (66.5 percent), Jacquizz Rodgers (28.1) and Jason Snelling (5.4) had all of the rushes among running backs from scrimmage. Brown is not sure how the load will shift with Jackson on board.
“I’m not sure about those percentages,” Brown said. “I just know that with Steven back there, he’s a threat along with Jacquizz and Snelling. I think they are threats whether you are handing the ball to them in the run game or throwing it to them in the pass game. We’re fortunate to have three backs of that caliber.”
Scelfo waiting for Toilolo: Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo has missed the OTAs because Stanford’s seniors have not graduated yet.
“When he finishes his obligations at Stanford, I’m going to be real excited to get my hands on him,” tight end coach Chris Scelfo said. “Seeing him for that snapshot in rookie minicamp really didn’t give me a great feel for what he can do and can’t do. He seems to be a focused young man. We are looking forward to getting him around here.”