Editor’s note: This is the first of an eight-part position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before they report for training camp. The rookies report on July 19th and the veterans on July 26th.
FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons defensive line coach Gary Emanuel hopes his group can help lead the way for the team, which is set to report for training camp later this month and open the 2022 season at home Sept. 11 against the Saints.
“I think you must have a tough defensive line because that really sets the tone for your team,” Emanuel said. “The things we must do on defense to be effective, it all starts up front.”
In their 3-4 alignment, the Falcons are looking for a nose tackle and a defensive end to help out Grady Jarrett, who signed a contract extension in May and is preparing for his eighth season with team. The defensive front looks to bounce back from a 2021 season of finishing 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (131.9) and an NFL-worst 18 sacks in 17 games.
Emanuel believes the Falcons have players with ‘the right makeup’ for the physical style of play needed to succeed and assistant defensive line coach Lanier Goethie added: “Learning the plays in the easy stuff .... but when you’ve got 600, 700 pounds across from you trying to take your head off, it’s a whole different ball game. It definitely takes a tough mindset.”
Jarrett, who had 59 tackles and 12 quarterback hits last season, believes the younger players can make progress in 2022.
“You’ve got guys who have been in the program now and understand the expectations,” he said. “We are bringing in guys who want to impress the coaching staff and want to impress the team.”
Jarrett was pleased with the offseason program and will have a role in helping to develop Marlon Davidson and Taquon Graham. Davidson played in 11 games last season and had 12 solo tackles, one sack, and one interception. He had pick-six off Tom Brady in Week 16.
The Falcons are hoping that Davidson, a second-round in 2020 preparing for his third NFL season, has more pass-rush potential.
“Getting my mind prepared mostly over anything, getting my mental good and then worrying about everything else,” Davidson said. “I’m really just trying to play.”
Graham, a fifth-round pick from Texas in 2021, played 310 defensive snaps (36%) and 57 special teams snaps (18%) as a rookie and had 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and five hurries in 13 games.
“From a confidence standpoint, I feel like the more confident you are, the better that you play and later through the season,” Graham said. “I saw my play getting more confident and better and better.”
The Falcons are hopeful Davidson and Graham can turn in a breakthrough season.
“We’ve got to see if TQ and Marlon... somebody needs to take a step,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Nick Thurman has a shot. We’ve got to get some more interior pass rush.”
The Falcons picked up Vincent Taylor and Eddie Goldman to compete at nose tackle. Taylor missed the offseason while recovering from knee surgery. Goldman made 73 starts over the past six seasons for the Bears.
They also re-signed Anthony Rush, who played strong over 251 defensive snaps (36%) in 10 games, which included six starts.
AJC staff writers Gabriel Burns and Erika LeFlouria contributed to this story.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis:
Part 1: Defensive line
Part 2: Linebackers
Part 3: Secondary
Part 4: Special teams
Part 5: Wide receivers/ tight end
Part 6: Offensive line
Part 7: running backs
Part 8: Quarterback
The AJC’s Projected Depth chart
WR – Bryan Edwards, Cordarrelle Patterson, Frank Darby, Cameron Batson, KhaDarel Hodge, Stanley Berryhill
TE – Kyle Pitts, Brayden Lenius, Tucker Fisk
LT – Jake Matthews, Rick Leonard, Tyler Vrabel, Leroy Watson
LG – Jalen Mayfield, Elijah Wilkinson, Colby Gossett, Justin Shaffer
C – Drew Dalman or Matt Hennessy, Jonotthan Harrison
RG – Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil
RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi
TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, John Raine, John FitzPatrick
WR – Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Geronimo Allison, Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Jared Bernhardt, Tyshaun James
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.