The Falcons have a lot of rebuilding to do on defense, but they have two clear centerpieces in defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and cornerback A.J. Terrell around whom to build.
Jarrett, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, again was a bright spot on an underwhelming unit in 2022. He led the Falcons with six sacks – the second-highest total of his career – and for the fourth consecutive season played every game.
New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, who coached a bevy of impactful defensive linemen with the Saints, is ecstatic to work with Jarrett. During his introductory press conference Monday, Nielsen was asked what he sees in the 29-year-old defender.
“Explosive. Tough. Disruptor. Penetrator. Pass rusher,” Nielsen said. “And there’s definitely a place for a guy like that. Definitely a place. So I’m excited about working with him for sure.”
Nielsen shared the importance of fostering relationships with his players, expressing excitement over meeting new personalities with the Falcons. Nielsen has been praised for his work with defensive linemen during his time in New Orleans as a position coach and co-defensive coordinator (2017-22).
One of those players is Cam Jordan, a seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher who reached double-digit sack totals four times under Nielsen. The coach gave some insight into that relationship Monday, which provides an idea of what he’ll try to accomplish with the Falcons’ players.
“My relationship with (Jordan) is very strong,” Nielsen said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I’m going to miss (with the Saints), the relationship with the players. A great room. He taught me a lot, really taught me a lot about myself, about coaching players in the league, how important things were. He’s a future Hall of Famer. So going through the six years with him was very cool. We had some ups and downs. You know, it’s not all roses.
“But I think the thing I appreciated the most about all of this is how we allowed, other than our relationship, between the lines is how he allowed me to coach him. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty, and we grinded through it. And always at the end, we walked off the field and had an appreciation for each other. So it was pretty cool.
“I look forward to those types of relationships with these players, and we’ve started that process. To me, that’s the biggest thing is relationships with players. It’s a player’s game. Those guys are important guys, those guys are the guys that 10 years down the road, I still have to talk to. And you know, you’re not going to do that with everybody, but that’s been pretty cool. In my career, I coached a player in 2008, and he coached with us 10 years later. That’s what it’s all about, right? So, it’s the relationships that fire me up the most. And with Cam, I consider myself pretty close with him.”
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