FLOWERY BRANCH — Shortly after being drafted by the Falcons, left tackle Lamar Holmes made a bold statement.
“I’ve got to go in there and take somebody’s spot,” Holmes said. “I’ve got to earn a job. I’ve got to be on the field. I’m not here to make friends.”
Then he went out and broke a toe in his foot. He missed all of the offseason workouts and parts of training camp. Holmes has recovered and will take his first steps toward earning an NFL job against the Miami Dolphins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sun Life Stadium.
“He’ll get a lot of reps against Miami and that will be good for him,” said offensive line coach Pat Hill. “Those will be his first real live [plays.]”
The Falcons took a gamble on Holmes in the third round of the NFL draft. A lot of the draft prognosticators had the Southern Mississippi product going later in the draft. NFLdraftscout.com had Holmes rated as the 20th best tackle in the draft and projected that he’d go in the sixth or seventh round.
But the Falcons liked Holmes’ athletic ability, leadership traits and nastiness enough to turn in his draft card as the 91st overall pick. He was the 10th tackle selected. The next three tackles picked were Utah’s Tony Bergstrom (Oakland, 95th), Mississippi’s Bobby Massie (Arizona, 112th) and Auburn’s Brandon Mosley (New York Giants, 131st)
With Sam Baker in the last year of his contract and his backup Will Svitek being lost for the season with an upper right arm injury, the stakes on the Holmes gamble are even higher now.
It’s clear that the Falcons want to see what they have in Holmes. When Holmes is not in the action at practice, he’s usually standing right next to Hill getting coached on the finer points of the NFL game.
Before and after practice, Hill spends extra time with Holmes on the field working on techniques.
“He’s coming along after missing minicamp and all of those practices that we had in the preseason,” Hill said. “That’s took its toll because it’s more difficult watching as opposed to participating. He’s had about six days, maybe five in pads where it’s moving at full speed.”
The transition to the NFL has been more difficult than Holmes’ expected.
“I’d be lying to you if I told you it was easy,” Holmes said. “I’ve been behind for a little while. I’ve been working with Coach Hill, coach[Mike] Smith, all of the trainers; everybody has been doing a little bit to try and help me get back out there.”
Holmes appreciates the extra attention.
“The coaches are doing everything possible that they can to try to help me along the way,” Holmes said. “So I feel pretty good about where I’m at right now.”
Holmes has been an eager learner and appears to be absorbing Hill’s teachings.
“He’s very conscientious,” Hill said. “The big thing is like when you’re taking driver’s [education], you’ve always got that guy next to you with a steering wheel and a brake. Practice is a little bit like that. …When you get in the game that’s the first time that you send your kid out driving.”
Holmes is looking forward to his debut against the Dolphins.
“The main thing that I noticed is that I’m starting to see that it’s all about a hands game,” Holmes said. “You must have great hand placement and you’ve got to learn to use your hands at all times.”
He played left tackle for two years at Southern Mississippi. He played both left and right tackle at Itawamba Community College.
“It’s a major task because you’ve got to protect the quarterback’s blindside,” Holmes said. “Not only the quarterback, but everybody on the team is counting on you to protect your quarterback’s blindside. It’s going to be tough but it’s still a kid’s game. It’s still football. …I’m not saying it’s going to be easy by no means. But if you know how to play football, eventually you’ll catch on.”
Baker’s job is likely safe, but Holmes can let the Falcons know if they need to find a veteran backup as a salary cap casualty or if he can handle the No. 2 tackle position.
It doesn’t appear that he has to take anyone’s spot. There is a job sitting there waiting for him to fill it.
“It’s very, very important that he gets some good reps so that we can get a true evaluation,” Hill said.
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