Falcons’ 2022 season review: linebackers

Editor’s note: This is the sixth of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ 2022 season. Today: The linebackers

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons revamped their linebacker corps last season.

The team moved on from all four starters in inside linebackers Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones and outside linebackers Dante Fowler and Steven Means.

The Falcons opened the season with Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker inside and Ade Ogundeji and Lorenzo Carter outside.

The Falcons couldn’t afford to pay Oluokun, who led the league in tackles, and he left for Jacksonville in free agency.

ExploreFalcons’ offense carved an identity in 2022 season

The Falcons attempted to upgrade at the other three spots as they cut Fowler, didn’t re-sign Means and eventually traded Jones to Cleveland after he recovered from shoulder surgery.

Evans, a former No. 1 pick by the Titans, went on to lead Atlanta with 159 tackles.

“Rashaan came in (and did) not miss a beat,” former Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I love Rashaan; he was everything I knew I had in Tennessee. He was everything when he got here. I’m not the least bit disappointed in him. I’m very, very proud of him.”

Evans played on a one-year, $1.75 million contract.

Walker was steady and made 12 starts, but rookie Troy Andersen finished the season as the starter.

Andersen made five starts and finished with 69 tackles.

“He made plays for us,” Falcons linebackers coach Frank Bush said of Andersen. “We’re happy. The kid (did) a tremendous job.”

Andersen played at Montana State and was making the full-time transition to linebacker.

“Obviously, he’s a big, talented individual,” Bush said. “His smarts and instincts (started) to show up.”

Andersen’s hitting ability got better during the season as he became more comfortable in the NFL.

“I’m happy with where he is,” Bush said.

Andersen played 481 defensive snaps (43%) and 263 special-teams snaps.

“The kid is smart, but you have to get out and play,” Bush said. “There are things that happen in a pro football game that I can’t even begin to describe to him. He just has to go, live that and get that experience.”

As the season progressed, Andersen understood better how teams would try to attack him and the defense. He also had a better understanding of “where he fits within the big piece of the big puzzle of this thing,” Bush said.

Andersen tried to keep a low profile, too.

“The kid understands protocols,” Bush said. “He (understood) that he was a rookie. He (kept) his mouth shut.”

Bush asked Andersen what he was doing after the 49ers game. “Get in my truck and go home,” Bush said. “That’s kind of refreshing.”

The Falcons finished with 21 sacks and were last in the league with a 3.74% sack-per-pass attempt.

“If you can’t play man coverage, it gets old after a while trying to play all of these different zones to cover up because you can’t play man,” Pees said. “In some ways, to me, I’d want to have a cover guy. I can manufacture some pressure if I want to. I’d rather four-man rush and sack the quarterback. But if I have to manufacture something, I can manufacture pass rush in some ways better than I can manufacture a guy covering somebody.”

Carter had four sacks, 15 pressures and seven quarterback hits. Rookie Arnold Ebiketie had 2.5 sacks, 15 pressures and eight quarterback hits.

Carter, who played at Georgia and Norcross High, wants to return.

“Yeah, this is home,” said Carter, who played last season on a one-year, $3.5 million contract. “Of course, you know, I’m red and black all day. But we’re going to let that shake itself out. Hopefully, we’ll get some news, and I’ll get to stay home. But it was exciting just to make it through the year.”

Carter believes the defense made strides in 2022.

“We set the tone,” Carter said. “We let people know that we were not just a pushover on defense. We weren’t just going to fold and let people do what they are going to do. I feel like we laid a good foundation and that we showed the young guys how to play the game the right way and work hard.”

Ebiketie was off to a strong start before he suffered a wrist/forearm injury.

“There were a lot of young guys out there getting experience,” Ebiketie said. “We can only go up from here. This time next year, the goal is to definitely be preparing for the playoffs.”

Ebiketie, who was taken in the second round (38th overall), wants to be more than a designated pass rusher.

“My goal is to be a complete a player as possible,” Ebiketie said. “Just work on different things. I don’t want to just be known as a pass rusher. I want to be a three-down player.”

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

The Bow Tie Chronicles