Falcons try to turn defensive youth to advantage

HOUSTON – Youth, considered the real vulnerability of the Falcons' defense, might not be such a crippling condition.

The other day Falcons coach Dan Quinn, never one to play the inexperience card, put an interesting twist on his callow defense, which includes three rookie starters and four more with only two years' experience.

“Our younger guys are playing like older guys. And our older guys are playing like younger guys,” he said. Which means that there are advantages to have players on both sides of the age divide. They obviously feed off each other.

This pains a gray-haired man to mention, but sometimes youth has its uses. It can serve as a tonic for anyone who had misplaced his younger days.

Dwight Freeney, the 36-year-old sack specialist, knows this better than anyone.

“They have so much energy it gives you energy,” he said.

“On those days when you have to do 45 minutes of stretching and you’re having trouble lifting your legs, you see (the young players) and say I got to keep up with these guys.”

And the feeling of cross-generational responsibility cuts both ways.

“I feel like we’re playing well for them (the older guys). We want to do well for them, we want to play up to their standard. We feel like we have to carry our end of the bargain out there,” rookie linebacker Deion Jones said.

Safety Keanu Neal said he can’t remember the last time he actually was called a rookie, hastening to add that after playing 18 games he really doesn’t fit the mold.

And here’s to the restorative power of getting younger as a team. “I think we’ve brought a lot,” Neal said, “the growth that we’ve had over the months that we’ve been here has helped the defense a lot. The speed we brought. The physicality, Everything.”

So, don’t count years. Count stops.

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.