By Michael Cunningham
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill told his charges that Sunday’s game against the Eagles would be like an 80-round boxing bout.
He didn’t mean it literally, but it felt all too real to rookie guard Peter Konz.
“I came out of the game looking like Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed,” Konz said, referring to the fictional fights in the first two “Rocky” films. “I was just bleeding from everywhere a couple of times.”
The Eagles might have bloodied Konz’s lip, but he was still standing. There was the potential for a lopsided decision in favor of Philadelphia’s experienced defensive line, but Konz held his own in his first start.
With Garrett Reynolds slowed by a back injury, Konz, the Falcons’ top draft pick in April, played all 75 offensive snaps at right guard.
“It’s your first game starting in the NFL, playing on the road, playing in bad weather and oh, by the way, [Eagles tackle] Cullen Jenkins is a pretty good player,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “You factor in all that stuff, I thought he did fine. He will do nothing but improve. Hopefully we get Garrett back soon because that just increases our depth.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith said Reynolds was still dealing with the back issue last week. Konz took most of the practice repetitions with the first team.
“We felt like it was time to give [Konz] the opportunity to go in there and play,” Smith said. “After viewing the film, I thought he had a very solid game.”
Reynolds played solely on special teams against the Eagles. He appeared on the injury report before the game against the Raiders before the bye week, but ended up starting. Smith said Reynolds’ status for Sunday night’s game against the Cowboys “will be determined as we go through the week.”
Konz, the No. 55 overall draft pick out of Wisconsin, had played only 16 snaps on offense in the previous six games. He’s not sure if he’s a temporary fill-in as the starter, but said it has been his intention all along to get on the field.
“As far as the competition, I think it’s been a competition all season,” Konz said. “I don’t think there was a moment where I felt like there was a reason to [relax] or anything. Every week I’ve approached it like, if anyone goes down, I’m in. If coach wants me to put in, I’m in.”
The Falcons under Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff usually have put their top draft picks on the field right away. Quarterback Matt Ryan (2008), defensive tackle Peria Jerry (2009), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (2010) and wide receiver Julio Jones (2011) started in their debut games.
Konz wasn’t a first-round pick like those players, and the Falcons have experienced veterans along the offensive line.
“They brought Peter in here to be a long-term player, and he got off to a good start,” Koetter said.
Konz said he was a bit winded after the Falcons’ opening drive, which lasted 16 plays and nearly nine minutes, but eventually settled down. Konz said center Todd McClure and left tackle Tyson Clabo, veterans with 22 years of experience between them, helped him by calling out the different stunts Philadelphia’s linemen were trying to run.
Before the draft, Konz was knocked for his relative lack of strength. He said there isn’t a lot of time to work on his strength during the season, but he plans to bulk up during the offseason.
Konz passed a big test when he was able to hold off the Eagles in a game that he likened to a brawl.
“I was watching film, and I saw a lot of good physical play out of myself and the whole line,” he said. “That was an important thing going on. I know I’ve got a couple things that have got to be corrected, a couple [quarterback] pressures [allowed] and a couple blocks I’d like to sustain longer, but for the most part I thought it was a good day.”
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