In a surprising move, the Falcons released starting center Joe Hawley Monday only hours after claiming center Gino Gradkowski off waivers from the Denver Broncos.
Hawley had lingering soreness in his knee during training camp. He tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in week four last season in Minnesota and missed the rest of the season.
Hawley was originally a fourth-round pick out of UNLV in 2010. He became the starting center midway through the 2013 season when Peter Konz had to move to guard. Hawley held onto the job going into last season and showed tremendous toughness, getting thrown out of several practices/scrimmages for altercations.
The Falcons were obviously concerned with Hawley's recovery from the knee issue. James Stone, who replaced Hawley last season at the position, could become the starter. Mike Person, who was signed as a free agent, could get the job, or the Falcons could immediately insert Gradkowski into the position.
Gradkowski started all 16 games at center for the Ravens two years ago. The Broncos traded for Gradkowski in April with the intent on him being their starter at center, but he was beaten out for the job in the preseason. Under Gary Kubiak, Gradkowski does have experience in the zone blocking scheme.
The Falcons will also have new starters at guard, with Chris Chester and Andy Levitre taking over for Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock. Both Chester and Levitre also have experience in the new zone blocking scheme employed by new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
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Falcons release Joe Hawley
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