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Falcons' Peter Konz can succeed in 2014

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Peter Konz did not play well as the center on an offensive line unit that was generally abysmal in 2013, but Mike Tice and upgrades to the line put Konz in a better position to succeed this season.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Fans are devastated that Falcons center Joe Hawley is out of the year with a torn ACL, and it's understandable. Hawley provided a great deal of stability to the center of the Falcons offensive line, a unit that was unfathomably weak last season. One of the contributing factors to the offensive line's struggles in 2013 was the poor play of Peter Konz, who will  take over at center for Hawley for the remainder of the season. Fans are panicking, however, the idea that a player cannot, and will not, ever improve after a bad season is inaccurate.

When an offensive lineman plays poorly, technique is often the culprit. That's one of the areas where Lamar Holmes in particular has praised the influence of Mike Tice for helping to improve his game. Could the same be true for Konz? Thomas Dimitroff also said following the 2013 season that poor play by Garrett Reynolds at right guard was a significant factor to Konz's poor performance last season. I went to the tape to evaluate the veracity of his statement. If what Dimitroff said is accurate, then Konz should be in much better shape this season flanked by Jonathan Asamoah and, when he returns from injury, Justin Blalock at the guard positions. I went back through the coaches' film for the 2013 season to see what, if any, Reynolds' play had on Konz, and I compared Konz's 2013 technique to his performance in last Sunday's game against Minnesota.

Konz's technique was pretty rough in 2013. He often stood straight up, surrendering any hope of leverage to defenders. His hand placement wasn't good, causing him to lose control of his assignments. His hand placement and posture got worse as games wore on, suggesting a conditioning issue. He also seemed to struggle with not always knowing his assignments. His instincts weren't great, and especially early in the season, the speed of the game appeared to hinder his ability to make decisions on the fly. He looked better in run blocking scenarios than pass blocking.

That said, Reynolds was really bad, and it did appear to impact Konz. Reynolds struggled to hold his own even when Konz chipped in with double teams. Reynolds' functional strength looked almost nonexistent at times. Early in the season Lamar Holmes was playing right tackle poorly, meaning the whole right side of the line was a liability.

There were also times last season that Konz seemed to have a better feel for his assignments and was much less hesitant when making decisions on the field. He continued to have some issues with leverage and hand placement throughout, which clearly hindered his success. Konz absolutely has the physical skills to play the center position effectively. It's just a matter of correcting the issues that caused his poor play in 2013. Thankfully, fundamentals are correctable through effective coaching. Enter Mike Tice, who has placed a real emphasis on fundamentals and consistency while preparing players for this season.

I spoke with Konz about the influence Tice has had on his game, and Konz echoed what Lamar Holmes has told me about Tice's consistent approach. "There's no gray areas with Coach, which helps tremendously," Konz said. "You know what you have to do, so every day in practice, it's consistent. It's consistent teaching, which is the most important thing. You can't go out there winging it, obviously."

Konz also emphasized that Tice has tailored the offensive line game plans for each opponent, saying, "So what [Tice] has done, which is essential to our cohesiveness as an o-line, is to solidify what we're supposed to do in the game. So we have a game plan, we have a thought process going in, so we know exactly where to be and when to be there." Taking into consideration the hesitation I saw from Konz on tape at times in 2013, this approach absolutely puts him in a good position to succeed at center.

I asked Konz about Tice's emphasis on communication at the line of scrimmage, and he said, "Communication is going to be very critical, especially on the road when it's loud. So being able to relay calls--and it's not just coming from me. It's coming from everybody. It's truly a team effort for the o-line. So it's going to be essential for what we're calling--and I won't get into specifics. But it's going to be key, especially on the road."

Tice's focus on getting the offensive line to communicate with each other has been a significant factor in improving the offensive line play this season. Calling protections isn't all on the center's shoulders, and the communication along the line ensures that the entire unit is prepared for each play.

Looking at the film from Sunday's game, there is improvement in Konz's technique. His footwork is pretty clean, and his hand placement and posture are much improved. He looks confident and decisive. Pro Football Focus graded Konz positively for his 23 snaps in Sunday's game and charged just one of the 12 hurries allowed on Matt Ryan to Konz. On that particular play, Konz was turned sideways by the defender and was not able to maintain hand placement or leverage. Other than that particular play against the Vikings, Konz looked much improved from last season.

Konz got bigger and stronger over the course of the offseason. He has refined his technique under Mike Tice's direction, and he's playing next to Jonathan Asamoah, a significant upgrade over Garrett Reynolds at right guard. Of course, with Justin Blalock sidelined with a back injury and Harland Gunn presumably set to get the start on Sunday, steady guard play on the left side isn't guaranteed. Add to that Gabe Carimi starting at right tackle in place of Lamar Holmes, who was placed on injured reserve early in the week, and the personnel changes along the line raise some concerns about chemistry and how that will affect each individual player's performance, especially Konz as he tries to provide stability at center. Konz, however, feels confident that all of the offensive linemen on the roster are prepared to play well as a unit.

"We've been together for so long. We've been together--before training camp, we had all spring to work on it together," Konz said. "So when people worry about the starting o-line, there's a little bit of [an adjustment], but a lot of us have played together a lot of plays, a lot of reps. So that's not even a worry right now."

Fans seem to want to cling to the idea that because Konz did not live up to expectations in 2013 that he'll never live up to expectations, but with improved technique and functional strength, better preparation for each opponent under Mike Tice's guidance, and stronger offensive line play around him, Konz is in a good position to succeed this season.