Reynolds early leader in changing of the guard

FLOWERY BRANCH – While it's too early to declare a winner for the Falcons' starting right guard spot, Garrett Reynolds has a commanding early lead.

With Harvey Dahl playing for the St. Louis Rams, Mike Johnson and Reynolds were left to compete for the job opening. Reynolds was listed as the starter on Monday's unofficial depth chart released by the team for Friday night's exhibition season opener against Miami at 7:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.

Reynolds worked with the first team when training camp opened and has not relinquished that role. Johnson’s bid was sidetracked Thursday when he suffered a concussion. He’s in the league’s concussion protocol and is officially day-to-day. Johnson did not practiceMonday.

Reynolds is not taking anything for granted.

“[I'm] just worrying about myself and my own technique,” Reynolds said. “I see things every day on film. I write down anything I need to fix. I look back over it and try to focus on that the next day when I get back on the field.”

Reynolds, a 2009 fifth-round draft pick, is huge for a guard at 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds. He was drafted as a tackle, but has been trained to play both spots over the last two seasons.

“I feel pretty good in there,” Reynolds said.

Johnson, who's 6-6 and 304 pounds, was taken in the third round of last year's draft. While he’s out, Reynolds will get a chance to play.

“There are still a couple of things I need to keep working on,” Reynolds said. “I feel comfortable in there communicating with the guys. But it’s still a work in progress.”

The winner will have a huge role to fill because Dahl was such an aggressive and nasty player. Reynolds believes he can provide that same level of nastiness.

“I learned a lot from Harvey and from watching him play,” Reynolds said. “I try to play the same way that Harvey always played.”

Impromptu scrimmage

Wide receiver Brandyn Harvey stood out in an 11-play full-contact scrimmage that Falcons coach Mike Smith called for at the end of the morning practice. The third-stringers played, with the defense winning. All of the offensive players did 10 up-downs for losing.

Kickoff return plan

Eric Weems, who handled the kickoff and punt returns last season, has a plan for how to deal with the new kickoff rule that places the ball at the 35 and should result in more touchbacks.

“It depends on how good the kicker is,” Weems said. “If he kicks it deep, then you have to live with him kicking it deep. But then sometimes he may swing and miss it, so you might get an opportunity to bring some out.”

Weems had a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last season. He will have a limit of five yards deep for balls he decides to run out. He also has to gauge the hang time on the ball and how it’s spinning.

Undrafted updates

Tight end Michael Palmer, from Clemson and Parkview High, made the team last season as an undrafted rookie free agent. He played in 15 games and caught five passes and scored once. He spent part of the offseason working out with trainer Eric Lougas at Westminster High School to improve his strength.

“The biggest difference is that I know the offense,” Palmer said. “It’s a whole lot easier to come out here and practice. I don’t have to think as much. I can react and play football.”

Palmer is listed third on the depth chart behind Tony Gonzalez and Justin Peelle. Palmer tries to take lessons from those two veterans.

“Everybody knows that Tony is a great tight end, if not the greatest to ever play,” Palmer said. “Just watching him out here running routes, you can see why he’s the greatest. Peelle does a lot of things in this offense that a lot of people don’t realize.”

Among the undrafted rookies, players turning heads in training camp are fullback Lucas Cox (Georgia Tech), who has been proficient with his lead blocking; cornerback Kamaal McIlwain (Newberry), who has shown decent hands and speed; linebacker Youri Yenga (Southern Methodist), who has made thunderous hits and appears to have picked up the base defense; cornerback Darrin Walls (Notre Dame), who is a big and physical player; running back Philip Sylvester (Florida A&M), who has drawn praise from Smith; and tight end Ryan Winterswyk (Boise State), who made a nice catch on a square-out during the morning practice.

Etc.

Running back Michael Turner was excused from practice on Monday and Tuesday to attend to a personal matter. Smith said he'll be back on the field Wednesday. ... Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his wife, Stephanie, attended the morning practice. ... Tight end Marquez Branson (left knee) and Johnson (concussion) did not practice.