FLOWERY BRANCH — For the past two years, it seemed like all Harvey Dahl did was practice. But now, all that practice is finally paying off.
Undrafted out of college in 2005, Dahl spent the entire season on the San Francisco 49ers practice squad, and although the team activated him on Dec. 20 of his rookie year, Dahl never played a snap.
"It’s a developmental thing," Dahl said of his days on the practice squad. "Some times you have to pay some dues and get better. You have to learn to catch up a little bit and learn the system.
"You have to get in there when you’re not drafted and fight to get in," he added. "That’s what I tried to do."
His determination to win a spot on the roster came to fruition in 2006, when he began the year on the 49ers’ 53-man active roster. But he only played in four games, and when he did get in, his time was limited.
But he never thought of quitting, and after spending the 2007 season on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound offensive lineman is on the verge of not only making the Falcons opening day roster, but he could be named the starting right guard.
"From OTAs to today, he’s been great," Falcons offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said. "He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. We’re looking for smart, tough and physical guys, and he is one of them."
But while his work ethic in practice has earned him time with the first-team offense, Boudreau said that a lot can happen between now, and when the final roster cuts are made on Aug. 30.
"We have nothing set in stone," Boudreau said of the offensive line personnel. "When you come off a season like you did last year, there’s nobody with a guaranteed job."
After leading the NFL in rushing for three straight years, in 2007, the Falcons, and their offensive line came into question. Atlanta finished the season ranked 28th in rushing touchdowns, 26th in rushing yards, 20th in yards per carry, and 25th in sacks allowed.
While a lot of those stats were due to the absence of Michael Vick, fingers started to get pointed at an undersized offensive line that couldn’t open holes for running backs, or protect the quarterback.
Now, with no guaranteed positions, everyone, including Dahl is competing for a chance to prove themselves.
"It’s real competition, everyone’s fighting for a job," said Dahl, who is competing with eight-year veteran Kynan Forney, Justin Blaylock, Michael Butterworth, and a host of other offensive lineman.
"It’s wide open," Boudreau said of the position battle. "(Dahl’s) going to have every opportunity to win a job, as is Kynan and everybody else on the line."
With that in mind, the former University of Nevada co-captain is doing what he has been doing best for the past two years, practicing. And if all goes well, all that practice will pay off with a starting role on this year’s team.
"I would just step into the role and try and make an impact," Dahl said of what it would mean to be named the starter. "I’d take it one day at a time and try and do my best."
And as for his determination from trying to make it from the practice team to the first team?
"You just work hard," he said. "It doesn’t matter where you start, but where you finish."