Falcons at Buccaneers
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Ten-year veteran offensive tackle Sean Locklear said Thursday he feels like a rookie again after signing with the Falcons this week.
Locklear better learn his new playbook quickly. The Falcons' battered offensive line needs immediate help.
This week's loss of left tackle Sam Baker to a season-ending left knee injury is another setback for the Falcons, who play at Tampa Bay on Sunday. There has been little chance for the line to develop continuity.
Atlanta began the year looking to replace center Todd McClure, who retired, and right tackle Tyson Clabo, who was released. Projected starting tackle Mike Johnson's season ended with a leg injury in training camp. There have been frequent adjustments at both tackle spots as Baker missed five games with the bad knee.
Lamar Holmes, who appeared in only one game as a rookie last season, has shuttled between right tackle and left tackle this season. With Baker being placed on injured reserve and facing surgery, Holmes could stick as the starting left tackle.
Jeremy Trueblood, who signed with Atlanta on Sept. 3 after being cut by the Redskins, has started six games at right tackle.
Locklear may push for Trueblood's job as soon as he learns the plays and tests his surgically repaired right knee.
Locklear spent seven years with Seattle. He played with Washington in 2011 and made 10 starts for the Giants last season before hurting his knee in December. He said there were no setbacks in his rehabilitation.
"The doctors gave me nine to 12 months," he said. "It's been 11."
It might be difficult for Locklear to be ready in time to play this week. He said he worked on the scout team Wednesday and took "mental reps" while watching the starters.
"I feel like a rookie again," he said. "... I've got to learn basically a whole new offense. I got thrown in the fire. But it's good. I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday."
Left guard Justin Blaylock, center Peter Konz and right guard Garrett Reynolds have started every game. That stability in the middle of the line hasn't been enough to spark the running game.
The disappointing Falcons (2-7) rank last in the NFL with their average of 64.3 yards rushing per game. The team has only three touchdowns rushing.
The offense has lost top receiver Julio Jones, starting fullback Bradie Ewing, Johnson and Baker to injured reserve. Running back Steven Jackson missed four games with a hamstring injury, and receiver Roddy White missed three games with hamstring and ankle issues.
White returned last week but made only one catch for 20 years. He said Thursday he should be closer to full speed against the Buccaneers. White said the offense needs a productive running game, and he said that starts with better blocking on the line.
"They've just got to do a better job of learning what to do and just doing what they're supposed to do on each and every play," White said Thursday. "The most important thing, especially on the O-line, is camaraderie and just knowing what to do on each play and everybody doing the things they need to be doing on each play.
"The more they do that, the more success we'll have in the run game, and if we're able to run the ball then we can get the explosive plays that we need to win games."
White said the Falcons have met their weekly goal for explosive plays in only one game this season.
"Last year was a completely different situation and every week we made it," he said. "This year it hasn't been that. We're trying to find ways to get explosive plays because when we do, we score a lot of points."
Coach Mike Smith emphasized better run-blocking in Wednesday's practice in pads. He said the line has performed better in pass-blocking, but said the linemen need to get lower for more effective blocks on running plays.
"The thing that you have to do is you've got to work on leverage and playing lower than your opponent," Smith said. "There are some things we're doing drill-wise that I think will help our guys. ... We've got to win the line of scrimmage if we're going to run the ball successfully."
NOTES: TE Tony Gonzalez missed his second straight day of practice with a toe injury. Gonzalez was noticeably favoring the foot as he walked through the locker room during media interviews on Thursday. If Gonzalez can't play, rookie Levine Toilolo would make his first start, but Smith said he expected Gonzalez to participate in at least part of Friday's practice. "I would never count Tony Gonzalez out — ever," Smith said. ... WR Harry Douglas (knee) and DE Malliciah Goodman (calf) were held out. DT Corey Peters (knee) and RB Jason Snelling (left knee) returned after missing Wednesday's practice.