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Mail Bag - Team Adds Bulk, Attitude As It Looks To Rebound From 4-12 Disappointment


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http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11304061/mailbag-atlanta-falcons-get-bigger-more-physical

Atlanta Falcons want to get physical

Mailbag: Team adds bulk, attitude as it looks to rebound from 4-12 disappointment

Originally Published: August 3, 2014By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Inside The Huddle With John Clayton

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Coming off a disappointing 4-12 season, the Atlanta Falcons embraced the chance to be on HBO's "Hard Knocks."

Organizationally, the Falcons are embracing harder knocks from their players, too. The team's physical changes are a big theme of training camp. The 2014 Falcons are bigger, stronger and nastier. That change was long overdue. Since 2008, the Falcons have had a finesse offense directed by Matt Ryan and a slightly undersized defense featuring smart players with speed.

I remember coming to Falcons camp in 2013 when they worked with the Cincinnati Bengals. Atlanta coach Mike Smith loves dual practices with other teams because they give him an early test of his squad. The Bengals exposed some of Atlanta's problems last year. Cincinnati's defensive linemen dominated the Falcons' offensive line in drills. The Atlanta defensive line couldn't do much with the Bengals' offensive line. The trends carried into the season, when the Falcons lost too many battles at the line of scrimmage. Ryan took a particular pounding.

Things look different for the Falcons at this year's camp. They signed right guard Jon Asamoah from Kansas City because he's a decent athlete who packs a punch with his blocks. He'll get up on a defender and stuff him with his hands. First-round choice Jake Matthews has it all. He's physical. He's athletic. His techniques are superb, but even if they are off, he can recover quickly and make the block. The right side of the Falcons' line has been stabilized.

Left tackle Sam Baker is bigger and stronger. Smith knows if the offensive line can win a majority of its battles and protect Ryan, the Falcons can get back into playoff form.

What's also noticeable is how much bigger the defensive line has become. The Falcons plan to mix defensive formations, using some 3-4 on run downs and some 4-3. In some passing situations, they will use a 5-2.

nfl_u_falcons_300x300.jpg

Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick Jake Matthews adds a physical presence to the Falcons' offensive line.

They hope bigger is better. They have a big sub package in their 4-3 that features Ra'Shede Hageman (318 pounds), Paul Soliai (345), Tyson Jackson (296) and Jonathan Babineaux (300). That defensive line is 156 pounds heavier than the one that started last season, an average of 39 pounds per man. The personnel changes have allowed the linebacking corps to get bigger because 255-pound Kroy Biermann, a career defensive end, will get plenty of snaps at linebacker.

The thing the harder-hitting Falcons have to worry about, though, is injuries. Last season, five starters suffered injuries in the first half of the Falcons' second game. Receiver Roddy White played injured until the final month of the season. Running mate Julio Jones missed 11 games. Losing at the line of scrimmage and the injury losses caused the season to crash.

Atlanta's health took a hit at Sunday's practice, in part because of the team's more rugged personality. Hageman, the Falcons' second-round pick, got into a fight with center Joe Hawley. Smith wasn't pleased, with good reason; Hageman suffered a wrist injury. Another fight broke out later. Early in practice, offensive line coach Mike Tice scolded his blockers to improve their effort. Defensive line coach Bryan Cox lit into a couple of his players for mistakes.

The Falcons can set the tone for their season at home against division rival New Orleans in the opener. The Falcons are 3-9 against the Saints over the past six seasons, but eight of those losses were by eight points or fewer. As long as Atlanta can get to that game healthy, a more physical Falcons team could show that once again it will be a major factor in the NFC South.

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Guest facelessman07

It's just shocking to me that it took this long to realize that bigger IS better. Love the way our lines look now

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It's just shocking to me that it took this long to realize that bigger IS better. Love the way our lines look now

It really does make me shake my head that they act like this is some kind of revelation about being bigger and stronger up front. I mean c'mon guys! angry.png

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Guest facelessman07

It really does make me shake my head that they act like this is some kind of revelation about being bigger and stronger up front. I mean c'mon guys! angry.png

I think Arthur may have given the powers that be a "Damascus Road Experience" after watching the travesty last year lol

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Now that's a gud artical! That first game against the Taints is going to be freaking huge. Not the moment of truth so early in the season, but truly a glimpse of the new Falcons

Always really liked John Clayton. I wish ESPN would hire more like him and air more like him and a whole lot less of just about everyone else on that channel.

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Man this first Titans scrimmage is going to be a trip hahahahaha if there fighting amongst themselves I can imagine they'll be seeing red when they see the Titans.I can't wait to hear reports from this up coming hit out.

Yeah, don't see another team being able to call them soft and it going unpunished this year. lol

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It really does make me shake my head that they act like this is some kind of revelation about being bigger and stronger up front. I mean c'mon guys! angry.png

I know right?! It's the basics of football! Not everyone can be a "skills" player! You gotta have to big and fat dudes on the squad!

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