Each week, one member from their ranks is designated to talk with the media. Everyone else clams up, supposedly under threat of being fined for gabbing out of turn. Clearly, the last thing this group wants is attention.
Well, they couldnt avoid it Wednesday after one of their own, starting guard Matt Lehr, was given a four-game suspension for violating the NFLs steroids policy.
While Lehr is hardly one of the leagues premier linemen, hes an integral part of a group that relies heavily on timing, footwork and communication to pull off the zone blocking schemes that have the Falcons on pace to lead the league in rushing for the third year in a row.
Thats probably 70 percent of playing on this line knowing what to do, said Wayne Gandy, who served as this weeks spokesman. We know that the guys up front are the catalyst for this whole offense. Its all about getting people blocked, getting cracks for our running backs and Michael (Vick) to make plays.
Tyson Clabo, who has never played a down in the NFL, will take Lehrs spot in the lineup for Sundays game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the few teams in the league that uses the 3-4 alignment.
The 6-foot-6, 314-pound Clabo wasnt drafted after his college career at Wake Forest, where he played tackle. He was cut by three teams during his first pro season in 2004, then waived again by Denver before the start of last season. He hooked on with the Falcons a couple of weeks later and spent all season on the practice squad. His only playing experience came with the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europe.
Still, the Falcons insist that they expect no drop-off from Lehr to Clabo even as they try to rebound from a dismal loss to the New York Giants, who sacked Vick a career-high seven times and left him with an aching shoulder.
The Falcons line takes its cue from Alex Gibbs, the guru of zone blocking (and, to his detractors, the proponent of dangerous cut blocks that expose defenders to serious injuries). Officially known as a consultant, its clear the enigmatic Gibbs is in charge of the line, from the virtual ban on talking with the media a remnant of his days in Denver to the reliance on undersized, unheralded linemen who are quick on their feet.
Lehr, a fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2001, started 42 of 63 games in his career without a lot of fanfare. He signed with the Falcons before last season, started all 15 games he played in and helped them lead the league in rushing.
Atlanta (3-2) is on its way to another rushing title, eclipsing 200 yards in four of its first five games. The Falcons average of 232 yards is nearly 74 yards ahead of the next team on the list, San Diego.
Enter Clabo, who made the 53-man roster during training camp but was inactive for the first five games.
Hes been in our system, coach Jim Mora said. Hes a very, very smart kid. He knows what hes doing. Even though hes not suited up or played, thats more from a numbers standpoint than anything because we only dress seven offensive linemen. We all feel good about him coming in and doing a good job.
Still, there are obstacles to overcome in the transition from Lehr to Clabo. Besides the experience factor, Clabo is 4 inches taller than the starter hes replacing.
I had to make some adjustments, said Gandy, who as the left tackle will line up beside Clabo. Hes so long and Matt is short. You notice it when youre backing up and getting on the ball.
That said, the Falcons believe they can work a new starter into the line without attracting much attention.
Which is just the way they like it.
If we score a touchdown, the running back gets the credit, Gandy said. But if we give up sacks, we get the blame. We cant win. Thats why we kind of like to stay anonymous.