Gabe Carimi appears bound for first career start at LT as Jake Matthews held out with injury

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Atlanta Falcons tackle Lamar Holmes (76) embraces Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) after Rodgers scored a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


FLOWERY BRANCH, Georgia — One week ago, Gabe Carimi was being groomed to be the Falcons' version of John Havlicek who could play backup roles across the offensive line.

Now Carimi appears bound for his first career start at left tackle.

Carimi replaced injured rookie left tackle Jake Matthews late in the first half of last week's 37-34 overtime win over New Orleans. He played well enough to help Atlanta set a team record for total yards while allowing only one sack.

"That's just how it is on every position on every team in the league — it's the next player in," Carimi said Thursday. "You always have to just go in there and do your job. That's why you're there."

Matthews, still recovering from his left ankle injury, did not practice on Thursday. Carimi and right tackle Lamar Holmes are the likely starters Sunday at Cincinnati, though coach Mike Smith said there will be more "clarity" on Matthews' status on Friday.

Carimi started at almost every offensive line spot except left tackle in his first three seasons with Chicago and Tampa Bay.

In the spirit of Havlicek, who starred in the sixth-man role for the NBA's Boston Celtics, Smith had a plan to take advantage of Carimi's versatility this season.

For the Falcons, the scary part of the plan was that left tackle was far down on Carimi's list of positions. Maybe it wasn't even on the list. He said Thursday he hadn't taken a snap at left tackle in Atlanta's practices for the Saints.

"Gabe had to step into a role that he wasn't really fully prepared for, but I thought he did an outstanding job," Smith said.

"Gabe was our John Havlicek going into the game last week. He was going to be the first guy in at all positions except for the center position. Unfortunately for us with the injury with Jake he had to play the left tackle position, but I thought he did a nice job."

Carimi said he leaned on his college experience, when he made 49 starts at left tackle at Wisconsin. He was the Outland Trophy winner, given to the nation's top interior lineman, as a senior.

"I didn't take any pass sets or any plays at left tackle," Carimi said of last week's practice. "But I played left tackle for five years (in college), so I had a pretty good basis for knowing the sets and everything."

Carimi drew three penalties, including two for false starts, against the Saints. For Smith, the key how well the unit protected quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns.

"He'll get a lot more snaps this week at the left tackle position," Smith said. "He'll be prepared to even play better."

One month ago, Atlanta's projected starters were Sam Baker at left tackle and Matthews at right tackle. Baker suffered a season-ending right knee injury in the preseason, forcing Matthews' move to the left side.

Holmes and Carimi might have had a close competition to replace Matthews at right tackle, but Carimi missed the first three preseason games with an ankle injury.

The line earned compliments from other players.

"All those guys were ready to step in," said receiver Julio Jones. "Sam went down and we moved Jake over. Then Jake just went down and we brought up Gabe. Those guys haven't missed a beat. They've been doing a great job enabling us to get the ball down the field."

NOTES: WR Roddy White, who was limited in Wednesday's practice with a minor knee injury, said Thursday he is "feeling really good" though he again was listed as limited. ... Matthews was the only player held out of practice.


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