Suspension leaves Falcons thin on O-line

On the surface, this might not seem like a very big deal but there’s some news out of Atlanta on Monday afternoon that could turn out to be very significant for the Atlanta Falcons.

Joe Hawley, the team’s top backup at center and guard, has been suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the league announced.

That leaves the Falcons one injury away from major problems. The suspension begins immediately and Hawley will be eligible to return after the Dec. 16. game with the Giants. In the meantime, the Falcons will be dangerously thin in the middle of their defensive line.

Hawley started 12 games last year and has been the top backup to 35-year-old center Todd McClure. Hawley also was the top backup for starting guards Peter Konz and Justin Blalock. Konz, a rookie, recently took over a starting job from Garrett Reynolds, who went on injured reserve.

The Falcons likely will have to add some depth to their interior line in the interim. Konz played center in college and could move there if something happens to McClure. But the depth is very limited at guard with former practice-squad player Phillipkeith Manley as the only backup on the current roster.

In an emergency backup tackles Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes could slide inside. For the next four games, the Falcons could be one play away from an emergency.