Countdown to camp: Can McKinley turn into a player?

Takk McKinley's career with Falcons
Takk McKinley's career with Falcons

Editor’s note: Leading to the start of NFL training camp, we’ll take a look at the Falcons. Rookies reported Tuesday. QBs and injured veterans reported Thursday and the rest of the veterans July 28. Today: Defensive linemen

After three injury-filled seasons, the Falcons want to see more from defensive end Takk McKinley.

The team elected not to pick up his $10.3 million fifth-year option, while hoping he recovers from his third shoulder surgery and blossoms into the defender they expected when he was selected 26th overall in the 2017 draft.

McKinley has been enigmatic since coming to the Falcons. His effort has been high, but his productivity low.

“Everybody has their own individual personality and how they do things,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Everything is emotional about how we play. That’s what makes the game so much fun. Fortunately, we’ve had good conversations.”

McKinley, who had offseason shoulder surgery, has had six, seven and 3.5 sacks.

“He’s really putting out in terms of preparing to play well,” Quinn said. “That’s the important thing. He’s connected with the guys and the coaches.”

The Falcons noted that McKinley took a hiatus from social media.

“Part of that sometimes comes with focus and what do I want to for the short-term to say how do I want to lock in,” Quinn said. “I doubt that he’ll be life-long free of social media. But that’s just my guess. But we are really excited in the progress that he’s made. Being in California and having a really specific rehab plan for him, have that go on like you thought, that’s pretty good.”

Also, the Falcons added defensive end Dante Fowler in free agency. He was signed to replace Vic Beasley after he had a breakout season with the Los Angeles Rams.

“We were really fortunate to get Dante and again excited about all of his energy,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “You know where it goes there. Dan has a really good situation with him of course. They worked together. They worked together well in Florida. He’s always admired Dan and respects him a great deal.”

Fowler had as slow start to his career after being taken third overall in the 2015 draft by Jacksonville. After he was traded to the Rams in his third year, He broke loose for 11.5 sacks last season.

“He continues to evolve as a player,” Dimitroff said. “We think we can continue to get a lot out of where he is. Obviously, that’s very important for us.”

The Falcons are counting on Fowler to boost their anemic pass rush.

“Rushing the passer is a privilege,” Fowler said. “In order to do that, you’ve got to be able to stop the run on first and second down.”

Fowler won over his teammates during the virtual offseason.

“I think Dante Fowler is going to be a great addition to the team,” linebacker Deion Jones said. “He brings energy and a lot of enthusiasm. I love his dog mentality on the edge, too.”

The Falcons believe he’ll fit into their locker room, too.

“We love that edgy side of him as far as on the field with the way that he plays, the way that he pins his ears back and just goes,” Dimitroff said. “He is getting more and more fine-tuned as far as his skill and technique.”

Fowler benefited from playing with Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He should continue to get help from defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.

“He has a real desire to continue to learn and take it to another level,” Dimitroff said. “I know he wants to be a special player here. I think this city is looking for a special player with high, high energy on the defensive side of the ball. I believe he’s ready to do that.”

Quinn stayed in touch with Fowler after he entered the NFL.

“I remember calling him after he got injured (in 2015) and speaking with him,” Quinn said. “Through the years, certainly we’ve kept up. I’ve seen his career progress from college…I’m really pumped to get a chance to coach him again.”

The Falcons are excited about getting back Steven Means from an Achilles injury. The also traded for former first-round pick Charles Harris.

They re-signed defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and defensive end Allen Bailey. They also picked up defensive tackle Marlon Davidson in the second round of the draft and are expecting improvement for second-year defensive end/tackle John Cominsky.

“The combination of Allen Bailey and Ty Davison inside has been a good one for us,” Quinn said. “You’re talking about Grady and Dante. We’ll leave those guys there, have some of the proven numbers. But Allen Bailey and Ty have certainly shown they’re more than capable and more than proven NFL players.”

Defensive line depth chart

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin, 71 Bryson Young

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky, Hinwa Allieu

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, Sailosi Latu

DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means, 53 Austin Larkin

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 92 Charles Harris, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Austin Edwards

COUNTDOWN TO TRAINING CAMP 2020

Countdown to Camp: Focus will be on the offensive line

Countdown to Camp: Dan Quinn’s revamped coaching staff for 2020

Countdown to Camp: Special teams need major overhaul

Countdown to Camp: Terrell, Neal are major question marks in Falcons secondary

Countdown to Camp: Deion Jones needs to take leadership mantel

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