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Atlanta Falcons Position Preview: Defensive Line


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The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs, offensive line, wide receivers, and tight ends.

We now move to the defensive side of the ball and the defensive line.

The cast: Jonathan Babineaux (11th season), Paul Soliai (9th season), Tyson Jackson (7th season), Adrian Clayborn (5th season), Cliff Matthews (5th season), Malliciah Goodman (3rd season), Ra'Shede Hageman (2nd season), Ricky Havili-Hemuli (2nd season), Grady Jarrett (1st season), Warren Herring (1st season), Joey Mbu (1st season), Sam Meredith (1st season).

2015 cap numbers: Soliai ($4,400,000), Jackson ($3,850,000), Babineaux ($3,619,791), Clayborn ($2,062,500), Hageman ($1,212,691), Matthews ($745,000), Goodman ($684,272), Jarrett ($496,963), Mbu ($436,667), Havili-Hemuli ($435,000), Herring ($435,000), Meredith ($435,000)

The coach: Bryan Cox (2nd season with team)

Key number: The Falcons pressured opposing quarterbacks on just 22.8 percent of their dropbacks last season, the fourth-worst percentage in the league behind the Bengals (20.4), Browns (21.1), and Titans (22.7), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

For starters: In the base defense, Jackson could be at one defensive end spot and Goodman at the other with Soliai at nose tackle and Hageman as the three technique (defensive tackle). That would appear to be the best front four against the run, at least for now. Jackson, who has dropped weight to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, needs to be more of a playmaker than a space-eater, while Soliai's adjustment to the speed of the defense remains a mystery because he doesn't have the ideal quickness and footwork. With so much of the game played in the nickel package these days to combat passing offenses, look for Babineaux and Clayborn to be on the field plenty as pass-rushers along with rookie Vic Beasley and newcomer O'Brien Schofield. Clayborn should line up at defensive end, too, but rushes better from the right side than the left. He acquired Erb's palsy at birth which caused nerve damage to his right shoulder and arm. Hageman might be the key figure in the whole equation as a guy talented enough to be a dominant force, if he can keep his head straight. He worked his body into shape this offseason and wasn't getting winded during offseason practices like he did as a rookie last season. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guru, likes to rotate bodies to keep guys fresh on the field, so being a starter doesn't necessarily carry as much weight. The most important thing is generating pressure and containing the run.

Backup plan: When you start talking about guys capable of coming off the bench and making an impact, Jarrett might be the first guy who comes to mind. The rookie has a high motor and is capable of playing multiple positions. He'll put pressure on the veterans for a starting job, but he needs to get stronger and get accustomed to the speed of the NFL. Quietly, Matthews was a solid contributor in limited reps last season. The new staff obviously saw his value both as a reserve and a special-teamer. Mbu might be the surprise guy to watch. He's already impressed Cox with his ability and could be an undrafted rookie who makes the team as a backup nose tackle. This is the deepest the Falcons have been on the defensive line in quite a while, so let's see if it pays off in the end.

http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/14326/atlanta-falcons-position-preview-defensive-line

Edited by FentayeJones
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McClure must have forgotten about Biermann, who as I've said numerous times already should be fighting with Goodman for the starting LEO spot in the base defense - allowing Beasley to focus on pass rushing downs. EDIT - NVM, I see that he left out all the LEO candidates other than Goodman in order to include them in the Linebacker post still to come. Not sure why he wouldn't include Goodman in that group if that is the case.

And no idea why McClure seems to be so misinformed regarding Soliai and the role he will be playing in this scheme. For one thing, Soliai has one of the quickest first steps of any big man in the NFL; and second, he's a perfect fit for the base D 1-tech in this scheme. He's probably a better fit than even Mebane - but I'll wait until the actual games before I remove the "probably" qualifier.

Edited by RandomFan
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I think Soliai will be just fine at the nose. I also think our base defense has some REALLY good options on the line. Man, having the front four they mention as a run stopping unit would and SHOULD be a phenomenal unit. It is going to be really hard to successfully run against us on first down this year. When we have Hags and Soliai in the middle with guys like Goodman, Clayborn, Jackson or even Reed on the outside I just can't imagine it being easy to run against on early downs. Especially when you've go Reed lining up outside of Jackson on the strong side. That is a LOT of big nasty on the field. Which is one reason I had a hard time understanding why we struggled so much last year even without the added linebacker talent. Despite our overall lack off of talent overall defensively.

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Goodman starts at RDE opposite Jackson at LDE to stop the run? You got to be pho king me. He even said that Clayborn is better suited to RDE because of his erbs palsy in his right shoulder. Biermann is decent against the run too and will play RDE. Goodman will be fighting for the last DE spot on the team and be inactive every week if he beats out Starr or Matthews. Goodman is actually not very good vs the run anyway, he is supposed to be but he is more easily washed down the line than Beasley, who I think will prove to be adequate like Biermann.

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McClure must have forgotten about Biermann, who as I've said numerous times already should be fighting with Goodman for the starting LEO spot in the base defense - allowing Beasley to focus on pass rushing downs. EDIT - NVM, I see that he left out all the LEO candidates other than Goodman in order to include them in the Linebacker post still to come. Not sure why he wouldn't include Goodman in that group if that is the case.

And no idea why McClure seems to be so misinformed regarding Soliai and the role he will be playing in this scheme. For one thing, Soliai has one of the quickest first steps of any big man in the NFL; and second, he's a perfect fit for the base D 1-tech in this scheme. He's probably a better fit than even Mebane - but I'll wait until the actual games before I remove the "probably" qualifier.

I have never seen Soliai play and thought of quickness. I think of Vince Wilfork in his prime when I think of big man with quickness.
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I have never seen Soliai play and thought of quickness. I think of Vince Wilfork in his prime when I think of big man with quickness.

You've got to think relative quickness to his size and position. Of course he's not going to be as quick as something like a pass rushing DE. However:

10-yard split = 1.63s

20 short shuttle = 4.53s

3-cone = 7.66s

Compared to Wilfork:

10-yard split = 2.12s

20 short shuttle = 4.50s

3-cone = 7.62s

Those are some of the best times for a man his size at the combine - especially the 10 yard split. He's plenty quick for his size. Playing a 2-gap scheme his entire career shrouds a lot of that ability. But in this scheme where the NT is most often charged with shooting into the Center from the strongside A-gap in order to get a step into the backfield to blow up both A-gaps, his quickness will be on more display this year.

Edited by RandomFan
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Goodman starts at RDE opposite Jackson at LDE to stop the run? You got to be pho king me. He even said that Clayborn is better suited to RDE because of his erbs palsy in his right shoulder. Biermann is decent against the run too and will play RDE. Goodman will be fighting for the last DE spot on the team and be inactive every week if he beats out Starr or Matthews. Goodman is actually not very good vs the run anyway, he is supposed to be but he is more easily washed down the line than Beasley, who I think will prove to be adequate like Biermann.

I'm sorry man, but Beirman is not good against the run imo. He has consistent problems maintaining the edge and gets washed out far too easily.
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You've got to think relative quickness to his size and position. Of course he's not going to be as quick as something like a pass rushing DE. However:

10-yard split = 1.63s

20 short shuttle = 4.53s

3-cone = 7.66s

Compared to Wilfork:

10-yard split = 2.12s

20 short shuttle = 4.50s

3-cone = 7.62s

Those are some of the best times for a man his size at the combine - especially the 10 yard split. He's plenty quick for his size. Playing a 2-gap scheme his entire career shrouds a lot of that ability. But in this scheme where the NT is most often charged with shooting into the Center from the strongside A-gap in order to get a step into the backfield to blow up both A-gaps, his quickness will be on more display this year.

Those times were 8 years ago, he looked slow fat and lethargic most of last season to me and no, I don't think it was all 'scheme'.

Hopefully he's still strong enough to clog up the middle lanes, but that quickness he had a few years ago looked gone.

Edited by Vandy
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Those times were 8 years ago, he looked slow fat and lethargic most of last season to me and no, I don't think it was all 'scheme'.

Hopefully he's still strong enough to clog up the middle lanes, but that quickness he had a few years ago looked gone.

As has been said multiple times around here, Soliai has admitted after the season how much losing his father during the season greatly affected his play. Most football fans don't want to hear it, but personal lives of players often play a large role in how they perform - and he admitted how he lost focus for a big part of the season. He says he's regained his focus now, we'll find out this year. He's the person I'm worried about the least on the DLine.

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As has been said multiple times around here, Soliai has admitted after the season how much losing his father during the season greatly affected his play. Most football fans don't want to hear it, but personal lives of players often play a large role in how they perform - and he admitted how he lost focus for a big part of the season. He says he's regained his focus now, we'll find out this year. He's the person I'm worried about the least on the DLine.

Actually, I agree with that last part in knowing what we're getting. Like I said, he can still fill the role of space eater in the middle, he's just not that quick DT he once was..

I'm sure losing his dad played a role in his lackluster play last year, but the fact that he's 31 gotta factor in there as well.

Edited by Vandy
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You've got to think relative quickness to his size and position. Of course he's not going to be as quick as something like a pass rushing DE. However:

10-yard split = 1.63s

20 short shuttle = 4.53s

3-cone = 7.66s

Compared to Wilfork:

10-yard split = 2.12s

20 short shuttle = 4.50s

3-cone = 7.62s

Those are some of the best times for a man his size at the combine - especially the 10 yard split. He's plenty quick for his size. Playing a 2-gap scheme his entire career shrouds a lot of that ability. But in this scheme where the NT is most often charged with shooting into the Center from the strongside A-gap in order to get a step into the backfield to blow up both A-gaps, his quickness will be on more display this year.

I know with pads on Vince was very quick in his prime. Man was something serious
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McClure must have forgotten about Biermann, who as I've said numerous times already should be fighting with Goodman for the starting LEO spot in the base defense - allowing Beasley to focus on pass rushing downs. EDIT - NVM, I see that he left out all the LEO candidates other than Goodman in order to include them in the Linebacker post still to come. Not sure why he wouldn't include Goodman in that group if that is the case.

And no idea why McClure seems to be so misinformed regarding Soliai and the role he will be playing in this scheme. For one thing, Soliai has one of the quickest first steps of any big man in the NFL; and second, he's a perfect fit for the base D 1-tech in this scheme. He's probably a better fit than even Mebane - but I'll wait until the actual games before I remove the "probably" qualifier.

Apparently McClure is not including the LEO in this assessment at all.

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