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Falcons hope veteran newcomers boost defense

Goober Pyle

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By Michael Cunningham - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


FLOWERY BRANCH — As Falcons training camp opened, coach Dan Quinn said the goal is to have a contending team in 2016. He said his optimism is centered on what he expects to be improvement from players in Year Two of his system.

The offense also expects to get a boost from two big-ticket free agents, center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Production on that side of the ball was the main issue for the Falcons in 2015.

As for the defense, the Falcons had splurged on free agents in the recent past but received little tangible results for their money. Now they hope they’ll get contributions from their top draft picks while getting value from four veteran free-agent additions: Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, LaRoy Reynolds and Sean Weatherspoon.

All four players could end up playing significant roles in the front seven.

“It’s exciting,” Reynolds said. “We have a good group of guys. We are creating a real culture, a real brotherhood. It’s good to be around and to come out here and get the support. I’m excited for what’s next.”

Falcons defensive end Derrick Shelby lines up for a play during training camp on Friday, July 29, 2016, in Flowery Branch. ... Read More

For Shelby and Upshaw, Falcons coaches are trying to decide how they best can be utilized to improve what has been one of the league’s worst pass rushes. Both players have typically played on the edge but are moving inside on passing downs in an attempt to create pressure in the middle of the pocket and help the edge rushers.

Shelby saw increased opportunities to rush the passer for the Dolphins last season after Cameron Wake went down to injury. He had 2.5 sacks and Pro Football Focus credited him with 41 other quarterback pressures.

“I’m definitely getting a vibe to go along with my (new) teammates,” Shelby said. “To go along with that, I’m also getting a great feel for where I will end up in this defense. That’s why we go to camp. It’s time to experiment and dibble and dabble and see where I fit in. I feel like I know where I’m comfortable but it’s up to the coaches to decide.”

Upshaw played outside linebacker for the Ravens and earned high marks as a run stopper. The Falcons are hoping he can improve his pass rush production with a move inside.

“He’s a big guy and he’s strong enough to play inside,” Quinn said. “We’ve done it before where we’ve moved players from outside to inside. It’s a new spot for him, but one that we’re looking forward to creating more of the speed and juice inside.”

Quinn cited Weatherspoon’s toughness and competitiveness as assets and said he can can play both middle and outside linebacker. The Falcons say they like Reynolds’ speed and envision him as a key backup and a special-teams standout.

The Falcons attempted to shore up their defense in the draft when they used their top two picks to select Florida safety Keanu Neal and LSU linebacker Deion Jones. But with Mack and Sanu getting the bulk of the team’s free-agent dollars, the Falcons gave relatively modest deals to their new veteran defenders.

The Falcons gave Shelby $7.5 million guaranteed, reflecting the market for a potential impact pass rusher. But Upshaw ($390,000 signing bonus), Weatherspoon ($150,000) and Reynolds (no bonus) got what are essentially make-good deals.

“The Falcons are giving me a chance,” Upshaw said. “As you know with the one-year deal, I’m here to try to make the best of it.”


Edited by Goober Pyle
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7 hours ago, RandomFan said:

We'll see. We kept Stupar last year primarily because of special teams. The same could happen with Reynolds.

Meh...The one special teams play he made, he had a facemask penalty.  Stupar at least offered value as a backup linebacker.  Reynolds is having trouble absorbing one of the more simplified defenses in the league.   Not impossible he makes it but not probable...

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24 minutes ago, gHost83 said:

Meh...The one special teams play he made, he had a facemask penalty.  Stupar at least offered value as a backup linebacker.  Reynolds is having trouble absorbing one of the more simplified defenses in the league.   Not impossible he makes it but not probable...

Plus we have alot more defensive talent on this year's team...alot more.

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He grabbed the corner of the guy's jersey near the facemask. Refs are taught that if there is an abrupt and aggressive headturn, then it's most likely a facemask.

He didn't overpursure actually. He played his lane really well. The returner slowed down into the next person's lane. When the returner slowed down Laroy reached out and grabbed his jersey. That speed and force made the returner neck turn which made the ref think it was a facemask.

Hard call to make from a ref's perspective tbh so no big deal.

As far as him making the roster well we got DJ, DC, Spoon, Wheeler, Worrilow, Starr, Reynolds, McClennan....I may have missed some but those last 3 are in comp. Key thing is can Starr and Mcclennan show enough to scare the team from putting them on PS.

I still count Beasley in the DL rotation

Edited by ATLFalcons11
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