FLOWERY BRANCH — Most of the folks in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin bleed green and gold and are devout Packers fans.
Former Wisconsin center Peter Konz, who was selected in the second round (55th overall) by the Falcons on Friday, said he was raised doing a different dance — The Dirty Bird.
“A [few] people know this, but I was never a Packer fan,” Konz said. “I always did what people told me not to do. So when the Falcons were in the Super Bowl, I was doing the Dirty Bird with the rest of them.”
Former Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler turned in the team’s card and announced the pick in New York.
Just before they were to select at No. 84 (third round) they traded the pick to Baltimore. They received the Ravens’ pick at No. 91 (third round), which they used to take Lamar Holmes, an offensive tackle from Southern Mississippi.
The trade also brought the Falcons a fifth-round pick (No. 164, 29th of the round).
The Falcons’ plan was to improve the offensive line early in this draft.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is Konz can play both guard and center,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We have him listed as a guard-center.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 26 times last season and was hit 84 times, which was the seventh most hits in the NFL. If the Falcons plan to climb to the top of the NFC and are Super Bowl contenders, they must do a better job of protecting the man Dimitroff has taken to calling “Deuce.”
“We need to make sure we have the right people protecting ‘Deuce’ as well as helping in short-yardage runs,” said Dimitroff, who selected a player from the Big Ten conference for the first time in five drafts with the Falcons.
Konz’s versatility was important to the Falcons.
“At Wisconsin they made sure I knew tackle, guard and center,” Konz said. “Anywhere I can help the team, that’s my responsibility.”
The Falcons re-signed center Todd McClure during free agency. Also, Joe Hawley started three games at center last season.
The right guard position was problematic as Garrett Reynolds opened the season as the starter after beating out Mike Johnson. When Reynolds struggled, Hawley took over at right guard.
In the offseason, the Falcons sign guard Vincent Manuwai in free agency.
Konz, 6-foot-5 and 314 pounds, was projected to go late in the first round by most draft analysts. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper had him rated as the top center in the draft.
“He has no peers in this draft,” Kiper said.
Konz, who lifted 225 pounds just 18 times at the NFL scouting combine, needs to improve his upper-body strength. He should be able to lift that weight 25 times. He said he lifted 225 pounds 23 times at his Pro Day.
He is considered quick and agile for his size. He could pull on sweeps and hit moving targets, which was considered a weakness of the line by former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. The line’s lack of mobility was cited when Mularkey was pressed about why he didn’t call more screen passes last season.
Under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Falcons plan to run more screens. They need some linemen who can pull and eliminate defenders while on the move.
Konz has a interesting medical history. He was placed on blood thinners in 2008 after blood clots were discovered in his lungs. He also has battled through ankle sprains in 2009 and 2010. Last season, he missed three games with a dislocated ankle. He returned to play in the Rose Bowl.
The draft resumes at noon Saturday with the fourth round. The Falcons have four remaining picks — two in the fifth round (157th and 164th overall), the sixth (192nd) and the seventh (249th).
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog