Falcons rookie Lamar Holmes ready to take next step

FLOWERY BRANCH — Lamar Holmes is not short on self-confidence.

The trait has served him well throughout his football career — first high school, then college and now, he hopes, in the NFL.

The Falcons drafted Holmes in the third round last month, higher than the offensive tackle was projected to be taken. He was one of two selections made in an effort to improve an offensive line that struggled, especially in short-yardage situations, at times last season. The 6-foot-6, 333-pound Holmes, who played at Southern Mississippi, is ready to take the next step.

“I do,” Holmes said when asked following his selection if he could compete for a starting job with the Falcons. “I feel like I can come in there and be a contributor from Day 1, because I’m going to work and whoever is across from me, I’m going to make them work hard every day, all day.”

Holmes, who wears No. 76, was a spectator at the Falcons’ three-day rookie camp because of a toe injury that has him in a walking boot. Because he is injured, the Falcons would not allow Holmes to speak to the media.

His coach at Hunter Huss High in Gastonia, N.C., remembers the “big kid, a little overweight” who showed up in ninth grade and thought he was a basketball player. He played varsity right away, and according to coach Steve Gardner, it didn’t take long for Holmes to re-think his career options. By the time he was a sophomore he was no longer playing basketball.

“We’ve always known Lamar was going to go as far as he wanted to,” Gardner said. “He was always confident. He kept saying ‘I’m going to get the job done. I’m going to play in the NFL.’ You’ve got to admire that much confidence.”

While Hunter Huss produced NBA player Eric ‘Sleepy’ Floyd, Holmes is the first player from the school drafted into the NFL.

Holmes had FBS scholarship offers out of high school but not the sufficient test scores. That didn’t stop him. He played two years at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi before he transferred.

His coach at Southern Mississippi remembers the commitment Holmes made between his junior and senior seasons. According to Larry Fedora, now the coach at North Carolina, leadership was added to Holmes’ resume.

“He played his junior year and did a decent job, but he wasn’t a leader,” Fedora said. “The summer before his senior year he just took off. ... He had potential because of his body size. He made a commitment to be a great player. He did everything we asked. He made himself into what he is.”

Holmes was voted a team captain before his senior season. He believes the selection was made, in part, because his teammates saw how hard he worked in the offseason.

Fedora believes the best is yet to come for Holmes in the NFL. He said the combination of the players’ length, athletic ability and footwork made him a good pass blocker. All were attributes that drew the Falcons’ attention. Fedora does not doubt Holmes will improve his run blocking to become a complete lineman.

“His best football is ahead of him,” Fedora said.

Holmes was predicted to be drafted between the fourth and sixth rounds. Fedora said he expected him to go higher when he received several phone calls from NFL teams inquiring about Holmes.

Holmes held private workouts for several teams, including the Falcons. A session for the Panthers at Huss High lasted two hours.

The Falcons traded down in the third round with the Ravens, moving from No. 84 to No. 91 overall to take Holmes.

When Holmes is able to practice, at the end of the month for minicamp and organized team activities, he will be cross-trained at both left and right tackle. He was strictly a left tackle at Southern Mississippi, but played on the right side in junior college. Falcons coach Mike Smith said Holmes could even move inside and play some guard.

“We really like his skill-set,” Smith said.

Holmes must unseat a veteran to earn a starting position in his first season. Tyson Clabo, who made the Pro Bowl in 2010, occupies the right tackle position. The Falcons started last season with Sam Baker at left tackle before Will Svitek took over the spot.

“I went to junior college when I was a freshman with my head down, just basically saying ‘I’ve got to go in there and take somebody’s spot. I’ve got to earn a job. I’ve got to be on the field. I’m not here to make friends,’” Holmes said. “I think that type of mentality, it carried me to where I am now. I went to Southern Miss with just the same mentality. And I’ve just got to keep doing it.”

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