Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) takes a handoff from quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during organized team activities at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch earlier this year. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
FLOWERY BRANCH — With a primary goal of building an offensive line to help quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons report to training camp today and are on the field Thursday.
It will also mark the beginning of the farewell tour by tight end great Tony Gonzalez, who revealed he decided to play this one more season thanks mainly to his 12-year-old son, Nico.
Most of the training camp attention will focus on replacing long-time center Todd McClure, who retired after 13 seasons and 197 games in the trenches.
Peter Konz, who started 10 games at right guard in 2012, will enter camp as the favorite to beat out Joe Hawley. Konz was a second-round pick in 2012 and Hawley was a fourth-rounder in 2008 and has appeared in 37 games with 12 starts.
The starting right guard and right tackle spots are open after sliding Konz over to center and releasing Tyson Clabo.
There will be an all-comers battle for those spots with right guard Garrett Reynolds and right tackle Mike Johnson trying to hold off Lamar Holmes, Harland Gunn and Phillipkeith Manley, who doesn’t gain an advantage by having two first names in one.
Reynolds has won the starting right guard spot in each of the past two training camps, but hasn’t been able to put a stranglehold on the spot. Holmes, a third-round pick in 2012, is athletic, raw and nasty. He’s expected to give Johnson a battle for that right tackle position.
In the salary-cap purge, to make room for quarterback Matt Ryan’s eventual contract extension, the Falcons shed themselves of their only legitimate pass rusher in John Abraham. They signed former New York Giant Osi Umenyiora to take over that role.
The team also let go three of its top five cornerbacks and is counting on rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to help with some tighter man-to-man coverage. Trufant is projected to win the starting right cornerback spot, while Alford could earn the nickelback position.
Gonzalez said last week that the 2013 season will definitely be his last as an active player in the NFL.
“Without a doubt, yes. Without question,” Gonzalez said. “I told everybody I was going to retire last year, and I really meant that when I was saying that last year.”
But Gonzalez had a change of heart and decided to play one more season when his son swayed his opinion.
“When I went home, I was able to talk to my family and my close circle — specifically, my son Nico — he was the reason I was going to retire, anyway,” Gonzalez said. “He lives out in L.A. with his mom, he doesn’t live with me during the season, so I wanted to spend more time with him.
“(Nico) said, ‘You know what, Dad, you guys have a great team. I think you should go out and try it one more time.’ And after he said that, with everything that fell into place, with the type of team we’re going to have … it was kind of a no-brainer.”