Spotlight on LT Holmes with Baker out

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The spotlight will likely shine on Lamar Holmes for the remainder of the season.

From the beginning, the Atlanta Falcons have expressed faith in the second-year offensive tackle. Some within the organization even believe the former third-round draft pick has Pro Bowl potential.

Now it's time for Holmes to show it.

The team's decision to place Sam Baker on injured reserve with a knee injury means Holmes will be expected to hold his own at the left tackle spot for the final seven games. Holmes admitted to ESPN.com that he was out of shape at the beginning of the year but has worked diligently to improve his conditioning.

"Slowly, it just turned around where I'm not as tired as I was at the beginning of the season," Holmes said recently. "I feel like I can go all four quarters."

The coaches have noticed his renewed commitment.

"I think Lamar has progressed extremely well at the left tackle," head coach Mike Smith said. "I think he's gotten better every week. ... I don't think he's really had a setback game. I think he's gotten better, individually, every week."

Offensive line coach Pat Hill echoed Smith's words.

"I think he's making progress," Hill said of Holmes. "I'm very, very happy with the way Lamar is coming along. I think he's going to be a very good football player. He can play both sides, which makes him very, very valuable.

"He's still like a first-year player. Last year, he was hurt when he got here, so we never had him. This is really his first year of pro football. And I think he's coming along really well."

It seems like the Falcons will give the 24-year-old Holmes an opportunity to be a starting tackle for years to come -- possibly even on the left side, if Baker doesn't regain his old form. Baker, 28, seemed to be on solid ground after a strong showing last season. He was rewarded with a six-year contract worth $41 million, including $10 million signing bonus.

But Baker struggled from the outset of this season, in part, due the injury. He went down with a left knee injury during a Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots and missed three consecutive games. Baker even underwent platelet rich plasma treatment specific to his patellar tendon, but that obviously didn't solve his problem. Now he'll undergo surgery after missing five of nine games.

Holmes was concerned about his own health, but it had more to do with his physical conditioning than any prior injury.

"Lamar's working himself into shape," Hill said. "He's moving well. He doesn't show any signs of fatigue during games now. ... I think he has a high ceiling. And I'm excited about working with him. He works hard. I like the way he works.

"Is he where we want him to be right now? I don't think anybody's ever where you want them to be. You're always striving to be perfect. And we're making progress there with him."