Last week I addressed the Offensive Line position battles for the Atlanta Falcons this upcoming season. In this edition I will address the Defensive Line. This group has been much maligned over the past few seasons because of the lack of pass rush or its inability to stop the run in crucial situations. In some cases when the franchise has tried to upgrade personnel, i.e. Ray Edwards, the move ended up being a “collossal bust”, failing to give a running mate to then pass rush guru John Abraham. Now John Abraham is gone….for now, but through free agency, the draft, and schematically, the Atlanta Falcons now feel they have solidified this unit, both in the interior and exterior.
Osi Umenyiora was the big free agent pickup for the Atlanta Falcons this off-season. The Defensive End and pass rush specialist formerly of the New York Giants was brought in to bring experience, fortified by his two Superbowl Rings to a unit that he feels has the potential to be one of the best ever. He lives in Atlanta and it made perfect sense that he play for the hometown team, not only to prove he has game left after a down season for the Giants, but to come to a franchise on the cusp of winning it all. So far in the Falcons’ Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) the coaches have raved about his leadership and his athleticism which will be paramount in replacing the legend of John Abraham. Kroy Biermann took the majority of snaps last season at the opposite defensive end position but continues to show the versatility needed to move around in various areas for the Falcons. His role is perfect for this Mike Nolan coached unit especially being that his philosophy about pass rush is such that having multiple players having sacks is more important than one player having the majority. According to sources, Biermann may play some linebacker in this defense as Nolan seeks to play multiple fronts. Also on the roster are players like Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews that showed promise at the end of last season and will be part of the attack mode defense that Mike Nolan hopes will come at opposing offenses in droves. The Atlanta Falcons also went heavy at defensive end in the draft by picking Malliciah Goodman, the 6-4, 276 pounder out of Clemson in the 4th Round and Stansly Maponga, 6-2, 256 pounds out of Texas Christian. Goodman has shown flashes of greatness while at Clemson, particularly in his Chick-Fil-A Bowl Appearance versus LSU where he looked unstoppable. Maponga, chosen in the 5th Round is a compact specimen and versatile player with an edge. He considered himself one of the best defensive ends coming out of the draft and told you as much. He has shown great technique while at TCU especially with his hand placement. He also has a great spin move which is perfect considering his non-ideal height for the defensive end position, reminding me so much of a James Harrison prototype. The team is expecting major production from all the acquisitions at defensive end.
Looking at the interior line, Jonathan Babineaux continues to be a fixture at defensive tackle. He finished last season with 31 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception. He is among the league leaders in tackles for loss and since being drafted in 2005 he is near the top of that category. Corey Peters, the 3rd year player out of Kentucky has shown promise within the interior rotation. He finished up last season with 15 tackles and one forced fumble. Peria Jerry showed improvement last season but still has not lived up to the lofty expectations that went with being picked in the 1st Round of the 2009 draft, 24th overall. He finished the season with 14 tackles and was as healthy as he has ever been in his career. Schematically, the Atlanta Falcons want to play multiple fronts and there have been some questions as to whether or not they will switch to a 3-4 scheme from a 4-3. Last season they played concepts of both but did not have the personnel to fully play a 3-4, however a couple of players and possible acquisitions may allow the Falcons to do so. Travian Robertson, the 6-4, 303 pounder was drafted last year out of South Carolina. He may have the size and savvy to play the “nose tackle” position in the 3-4, occupying the two gaps needed to truly be effective. Also with the drafting of Neal Huynh, the 6-4, 315 pounder out of Ohio, the Falcons may have found a small school player to fill that “nose tackle” void along with creating diversity within the defensive line. Rumors have surfaced for weeks that the “Dirty Birds” have been in talks with Richard Seymour, formerly of the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. He has played in both the 3-4 and 4-3, flourishing as a 3-4 Defensive End in New England, and combined with his University of Georgia ties, it would make perfect sense to bring him in. The Atlanta Falcons hope for huge things from the defensive line this season and with the acquisitions, draft picks, and scheme the perceived weakness could turn into a strength.
Jamie Walker is a Producer and the Atlanta Falcons Blogger for Sports Radio 92.9 The Game. He can be followed on Twitter @coachjdub21 and reached through email at Jamie.Walker@cbsradio.com.