FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons’ depth at tackle took a major blow Monday when head coach Mike Smith announced that the team’s top reserve at that position, Will Svitek, will miss the entire season with an upper arm injury.
Svitek started 10 games at left tackle last season after taking over for Sam Baker. Baker, a 2008 first-round pick, had started the first six games of 2011 before losing the job because of injury and ineffectiveness. But Baker has spent this offseason in his customary left tackle position.
Svitek also played the jumbo tight end position in short-yardage situations last season. The position figured prominently in former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s system, which was more run-focused but might not be as important in new coordinator Dirk Koetter’s.
Regardless, the Falcons are now left with untested players should something happen to either starting tackle. Tyson Clabo, a Pro Bowl pick in 2010, is the starting right tackle. The Falcons spent their third-round pick this year on Lamar Holmes, but the Southern Mississippi product missed most of the offseason with a foot injury and has yet to play in either of the first two preseason games. Holmes’ indoctrination into the Falcons’ system has been slow, but Smith said he would play a lot Friday when the Falcons visit Miami in their third preseason game.
Another option is Mike Johnson, a third-round pick in 2010 out of Alabama. Johnson has played in only two games as a pro, both on special teams. Johnson was selected as a guard, but during camp this year, the Falcons are training him to play tackle, mostly on the right side.
“We were very careful the first couple of weeks with Lamar and he’ll get some significant playing time in the game this week,” Smith said of the Falcons’ game at Miami on Friday. “Mike Johnson has been cross-trained at both the guard and the tackle, so we have options for that position, and believe me, you’re always prepared for injuries because that’s going to happen and you have to have a plan and you just follow that plan and we’re looking forward to some of these young guys getting some significant playing time.”
Smith said the injury occurred in practice Sunday, and the team learned the extent of the injury Monday.
“It changes, of course,” Smith said of the team’s depth at that position, “but, again, we’ve cross-trained some guys early on and that will be something that we’ll have to adjust with and start cross-training some more guys from the guard/tackle position. Will had been a guy that had played both left and right and did some other things for us.
“As I’ve said many times: One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity and there’s going to be some guys that are going to have to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Smith said the Falcons do not have plans to sign any free agents at that position.
“We’ve got a lot of time and effort invested in the guys we have on our roster and I wouldn’t speak to any roster moves based on what happened yesterday to Will,” Smith said.
Svitek, out of Stanford, has started 12 games for the Falcons over the past three seasons and, according to Stats Inc., allowed 1.5 sacks as a starter in 2011.
“It’s bad news for Will,” Smith said. ” . . . Will is a real tough guy. One of the toughest guys I know. He played through a lot of injuries and did a nice job when he was called on when Sam was injured last year.”