Vivlamore reporting from Flowery Branch.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Garrett Reynolds would be in no rush to play football.
His father would see to that — especially after he drove by a youth practice years ago and saw a coach showing a player the three-point stance technique with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. No, Art Reynolds instead encouraged his ever-growing son to swim and play soccer. However, growing up in Knoxville with a father and uncle who both played middle linebacker at Tennessee and then professionally, Reynolds was destined to put on pads.
Reynolds first played football as an eighth grader, at tight end and linebacker. He remained a tight end until his sophomore year of high school, when an offensive tackle quit the team and Reynolds moved into his spot.
Reynolds remains in the offensive trenches as the starting right guard for the Falcons after growing into a 6-foot-7, 310-pound behemoth, the biggest of the team’s linemen. This preseason, he is working to re-secure the job he lost after seven games last season. The team promised an open competition along the offensive line after struggling in short-yard situations and seeing quarterback Matt Ryan get hit too often last season. They used their first two draft picks on offensive linemen and hired a new line coach as part of the restructure. One of the rookies, Peter Konz, got some time in place of Reynolds with the first unit in Friday night’s exhibition against the Dolphins.
The competition is not over, with one exhibition game remaining, but Reynolds is in the position as the Falcons continue to search for Harvey Dahl’s replacement. He has a deep of knowledge and experience about the game close at hand.
Art Reynolds played in the now-defunct World Football League for the New York Stars and Charlotte Hornets. His older brother is Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, who played in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, where he won two Super Bowls. Though Jack Reynolds lives a secluded existence with homes in the Bahamas and Florida, Garrett Reynolds said he occasionally gets encouraging e-mails from his uncle.
“We don’t talk about football much,” Art Reynolds said. “We do some. When he comes home, he just wants to relax and be a normal person, not a football player. He spends so much time on football that when he’s here we don’t discuss it much.”
Despite his lineage at Tennessee, Reynolds was not offered a scholarship by the Volunteers and went to North Carolina. In fact, Tennessee missed out on the other starting member of the right side of the Falcons’ offensive line. Tackle Tyson Clabo, six years older than Reynolds, also grew up in Knox County, Tenn., and played at Wake Forest.
The Falcons drafted Reynolds in the fifth round (No. 156 overall) in 2009. “Big Country,” as he has been dubbed by teammates and coaches, spent his first year on the practice squad. He has shown steady improvement, according to offensive line coach Paul Dunn, so much so that he is back with the first unit during training camp despite his struggles last season.
Reynolds hit a low last season after he had a difficult game against Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who romped around the Falcons backfield for much of the game. The Pro Bowler finished with five tackles (one for a loss), a sack and a quarterback hit. Reynolds was replaced by Joe Hawley after the ensuing bye week.
“I talked to Garrett about it when he did lose the job and he never gave up, he did what he was asked to do and he kept on fighting,” Dunn said of Reynolds, who played tight end in jumbo packages and on special teams. “He did his part in there but obviously when he lost that job he kind of went in the tank a little bit.”
Reynolds spent the offseason working on his technique and paying attention to every little detail. According to Dunn, Reynolds has one of the thickest notebooks and continues to be a student of the game.
“His fundamentals have improved tremendously just from last year to this year,” Dunn said. “I think that he has worked on it and made a conscious effort to get better at it and he has. …
“I don’t see anything that he has done differently from that point to this point to speak of other than to continue to do what he’s done since he first got here.”
The journey to become an NFL lineman is not always a direct route. Clabo, for instance, went undrafted, spent time on the practice squads of the Giants, Chargers and Falcons, played in NFL Europa and was waived a number of times before becoming a staple at right tackle for the past six seasons and making a Pro Bowl.
“Yeah, of course that is going to be difficult, but it’s something that you can overcome,” Reynolds said of last season. “If you are not playing great, it’s their call. All you can do is help the team any way you can when you are not in there.”
The work continues.
- Chris Vivlamore
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