Mike Smith to tinker with lineups, play time

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It’s hard to remember too many times this season when Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith spoke positively about the play of one individual offensive lineman.

That’s what Smith did, sort of, on Monday when he talked about Joe Hawley stepping in as the starting center against Tampa Bay as Peter Konz moved over to right guard.

"I thought Joe did a nice job at the center position in the ball game (Sunday), from my evaluation of watching the tape on the flight home," Smith said.

Hawley played all 71 snaps on a day the Falcons benched right guard Garrett Reynolds, then benched Konz for Reynolds, then inserted Ryan Schraeder at right tackle for Jeremy Trueblood.

Not to mention newly signed veteran Sean Locklear might be in the mix at right tackle soon.

Yes, the offensive line is still a mess.

"We will continue to evaluate everything," Smith said of the line. "When you’ve played like we’ve played, especially the last four weeks, you’ve got to look at all options. And I felt like the moves helped us in some areas and hindered us in others.

"We will continue to tweak the play time of our players as we move through this last part of the season. We’ve got to get a combination where we feel we give ourselves the best opportunity to win."

Hawley is confident he can do the job at center moving forward.

"Obviously they’ve shown that the best players are going to play, so I’ve just got to keep playing good and prove that I belong out there," Hawley said.

Hawley isn’t the only unheralded player the Falcons will take a closer look at moving forward. Smith said running back Antone Smith earned more carries after gaining 88 yards on two runs against the Buccaneers, including a 50-yard touchdown. And rookie Zeke Motta played 26 snaps while taking over at free safety after starter Thomas DeCoud played 42 snaps.

By the way, DeCoud remained with the starters when the team went through a walkthrough on Monday night. Not to mention Motta has a broken finger on his right hand and is expected to play with a cast, which could limit his production. So, the chatter about Motta replacing DeCoud in the starting lineup might have to calm down for now.

"It was a good opportunity for me to get out and get some snaps on defense, get some good experience, and get a feel for the NFL game aside from special teams," Motta said. "It was fun, from that aspect; to go out there and kind of test my skills. And I felt comfortable. I felt like I belonged out there.

"I'll do whatever the coaches ask me to do. Whatever I can do to help this team and make this team better, I’m going to do."

The Falcons hope all their inexperienced players proceed with the same attitude.