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Clabo an NFL starter
Break comes with Simms praise versus Pittsburgh

Tyson Clabo had never even dressed for a National Football League game before Sunday, Oct. 22, versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Next thing you know, this former Farragut High School standout and Wake Forest University All-ACC First Team offensive lineman is not only dressing as a member of the Atlanta Falcons — and not only playing — and not only starting …

He earned rave reviews on national television from CBS color analyst and former All-Pro quarterback Phil Simms during the eventual game-winning overtime drive to beat the Steelers 41-38 in the Georgia Dome.

Twice during that drive, Simms pointed out Clabo’s effective blocking against the Steelers defense that opened up lanes for big rushing yards.

On one of the two plays, “I cut the linebacker and there was a hole there,” said Clabo, 6-foot-6, 314-pounder who has started five games for the Falcons (5-6 record). “I had played in some preseason games, but this is the first time I had ever put on a uniform in the regular season.”

Getting the starting call against Pittsburgh, “It had been a long time since I had had that kind of rush before a football game,” the 25-year old lineman said. “A million things were going through my mind,” “I was excited to start. A little nervous, obviously.

“I expected it to be the most insane, fast football, to just be a blur — unlike anything I had ever seen. But once you got down to it and started playing, it was just football. The players are just better.”

Clabo was cut four different times — twice by the same team — during a 12-month span.

“I’ve never had to go beat the streets for a job, the jobs have been there,” Clabo said. “But the third-string guys just don’t get many reps, that many opportunities.”

An undrafted free agent at Denver in 2004 who was released at the end of training camp, Clabo went to the New York Giants’ practice squad for two weeks before being released, then went to San Diego and lasted one week.

Clabo was then reacquired by Denver midway through the 2004 season and remained with the Broncos through the remainder of the season on the practice squad.

“Then I was sent to N-F-L Europe and played a season with the Homburg Sea Devils [Summer 2005],” the 2000 FHS graduate said. “As much as it pains me to say it, I think N-F-L Europe helped.

“And to be honest with you, I just quit stressing about it.”

Upon returning to the Broncos in 2005, Clabo once again got released in training camp. But an ankle injury hampered his efforts and gave Clabo no shot at sticking with the Broncos. “I didn’t get to play in, like, half of the preseason games. They had no choice but to release me.

“I went right to Atlanta and spent the whole season on the practice squad,” Clabo added. “A big part of it was I still had opportunities. It wasn’t like the game quit me. I was getting released, but then I was getting picked back up. The phone never went off. I got released by Denver and immediately got a call from Atlanta.”

Originally playing offensive tackle in practice with Atlanta, Clabo partially attributes his improved play to being challenged in practice by “really good” Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney. “He practices really hard, he’s not one of those guys who takes it easy on Wednesday and Thursday, he was bringing it,” Clabo said.

With the Falcons drafting an offensive tackle, Clabo once again fell down the food chain.

But he soon got a break.

“We had a guard quit, just quit,” Clabo said. “All of a sudden I was playing [second-string] guard. I got to play a lot in the preseason, which I hadn’t gotten to do before. All of a sudden I made the team.”

Clabo said his starting opportunity came when a starting guard failed a drug test prior to the Pittsburgh game, meaning he was suspended for a league-standard four games. “He was a good friend of mine, it was really unfortunate that happened,” Clabo said.


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