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Clabo’s Falcon crest
Ex-Admiral part of Atlanta’s dramatic NFL turnaround into playoffs as starting tackle

An outstanding quarterback, especially a rookie, needs special pass protection. An All-Pro running back still needs lanes to run through.

Tyson Clabo, former Farragut Admirals standout, has helped one of the National Football League’s top running backs find open lanes while keeping a talent rookie signal caller protected enough to earn special league honors.

It added up to one of the NFL’s top rags to riches stories in 2008, as the Falcons used Clabo’s improved play as a 6-foot-6, 332-pound starting right tackle to go from a losing record in 2007 to 11-5 and playoff bound this season.

Clabo, meanwhile, was among the big men up front who got a special gift from his young quarterback and elusive running back.

“They got us some T-Vs for Christmas,” Clabo said of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, good enough to be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, and running back Michael Turner, NFL’s No. 2 regular season rusher (1,699 yards). “Plasma, 42-inch, they’re pretty good. ... That’s an awesome gift.”

Going from a losing season with a quarterback, Michael Vick, who turned into a convicted felon in 2007, the 2008 Falcons earned the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs.

“This year’s been a lot of fun,” said Clabo, who started all 17 Falcons games at right tackle. “There’s been a lot of changes, from the coaching staff, and we drafted a quarterback, we got the free agent running back, got a new offensive scheme.

“Coach [Mike] Smith came in and he immediately tried to focus on the little things and do our job and be positive, and those have carried over and helped us all year,” Clabo said. “Just a positive, fun atmosphere ... we’re confident, we’re a positive football team We’ve got a positive coach. We’re not dwelling on the negative, there’s open lines of communication between the coaching staff and the players. They know what we’re thinking, we know what they’re thinking.”

Smith recently was named NFL Coach of the Year.

“We had good players last year, and that’s what’s frustrating about last year,” Clabo said. “We just needed somebody like coach Smith and [new assistant coaches] to come in and just push us over the edge and help us to win those close games that we weren’t able to win last year.”

As for Clabo’s own improvement, going from a former practice squad lineman just three years ago into a solid NFL starter, “A lot of it just had to do with experience ... getting into the games and feeling more and more comfortable last year,” he said of 10 starts in 2007.

Also, “Having an entire training camp at tackle pretty much as a starter,” Clabo added. “I didn’t do any training camp at tackle last year;” instead, he played guard.

“It’s really helped just to get a feel for the offense and the people I’m playing with and what they’re going to do.”

In preparing for his first-ever playoff experience — on the road at University of Phoenix Stadium against NFC West champion Arizona last Saturday, Jan. 3 — Clabo said he anticipated “an excellent experience.”

The experience wasn’t quite as “excellent” as Clabo would have hoped, as the Falcons lost on Wild Card Weekend to the Cardinals 30-24.

However, “We talked about it in the team meeting the other day about how special it is to make the playoffs,” said Clabo, an All-ACC guard at Wake Forest. “It’s not an easy thing to do, get in the playoffs.

“For me, I’m just going to enjoy it, and I’m just going to really, really concentrate on how rare it is and appreciate it.”

The bottom line? “Was it John Madden who said winning is a really, really good deodorant?” Clabo said. “All the bad smell that [fans] had from us before is gone.”

And he gained a new 42-inch plasma television.


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