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Falcons likely turning to Joe Hawley

Atlanta coach Mike Smith just told the media that veteran center Todd McClure, who recently had knee surgery, will not be available to play in the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Chicago.

Unless the Falcons go out and find a veteran, that almost certainly means second-year pro Joe Hawley will start in McClure’s place. A fourth-round pick out of UNLV last year, Hawley never has started an NFL game. But he’s worked behind McClure since last year and appeared in 15 games, mostly as a special-teams player, last year.

The news also means McClure’s franchise-record 144 straight starts will come to an end. Smith wouldn’t speculate about McClure’s availability beyond the Chicago game, but it’s possible he could miss more time. He’s 34 and has played through lots of other injuries through the years.

The Falcons drafted Hawley as an eventual replacement for McClure. Atlanta’s offensive line already will have one new starter at right guard with either Garrett Reynolds or Mike Johnson taking over after Harvey Dahl left via free agency.

Right tackle Tyson Clabo and left guard Justin Blalock were also free agents, but the team re-signed them in large part because the front office and coaching staff wanted to keep as much continuity as possible on the offensive line. Now, the Falcons will have to play at least one game with two new starters on the line.