Falcons’ Grady Jarrett excited about Ryan Nielsen, additions to defensive front

Falcons coach Arthur Smith has made it clear that the team’s offseason program is voluntary and that no one is going to make the team in June.

But two-time Pro Bowler defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who’s set to enter his ninth season, felt he needed to be on hand for everything as the team enters the mandatory minicamp Monday through Thursday.

“This time has been critical,” Jarrett said Thursday at his golf outing in Buford to kick off his “Grady Gives” weekend of community service. “It’s been crucial.”

The Falcons have a new staff, and several veterans have been added to the defensive front.

“That’s part of the reason I wanted to be so in tune with it,” Jarrett said. “One, to learn the new defense. Having new teammates, new coaches and building a rapport because by the time fall comes, we want to be running. We have a great group of players, great group of coaches.”

Jarrett’s presence has been important for the Falcons.

“More than anything it’s a collective of guys that want to be the best,” Jarrett said. “Not to be the best just to make this work, but to be the best. I think that’s the thing that’s driving everybody just to pour in more, to do more, spend more time, and we’ve had a great turnout. It’s been great work.”

The Falcons added defensive end Calais Campbell, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, defensive tackle David Onyemata and linebacker Kaden Elliss to the front seven of the defense in free agency.

“It’s been a heck of a transformation,” Jarrett said. “It’s been something that I’ve been super excited about having veterans come in, guys who are ready to roll.”

Jarrett also is fine with the young developing players on line in defensive tackles Ta’Quon Graham and Arnold Ebiketie.

“That’s not a knock on anyone, but (when I was) a young player I know how long it took me to adjust to the game,” Jarrett said. “To learn. That’s great, everybody is still here, but when you get guys that come in ready to go and they are working for something, they know how to do it. They know how to get the job done.”

Jarrett has been the key player on the defense that teams have tried to contain for the past two seasons. There was the classic footage from the game against Detroit in 2021 when the Lions sent three players to try to block Jarrett.

With the added veterans, teams no longer can focus solely on stopping Jarrett.

“It does take a load off my plate from a leadership standpoint and productivity standpoint,” Jarrett said. “It’s going to make everybody better.”

Jarrett made second-team All-Pro and the Pro Bowl in 2019 and the Pro Bowl in 2020. He led the team with six sacks last season.

“It helps me across the whole board if you’re talking about protections, snaps counts and certain run plays that you might see,” Jarrett said. “They’ve got to play us honest. I’m super, super excited. ... We’ve got a good group going forward and I’m excited.”

Jarrett also wanted to be on hand for the offseason to work with new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, who’s also working with the defensive line.

“He’s definitely fiery and intense, but it’s consistent, day-in and day-out,” Jarrett said. “It’s with a positive connation to it. Challenging guys, but at the same time, you don’t want to disappoint him.”

Jarrett is familiar with Nielsen’s work and the impressive numbers that his defensive lines amassed in New Orleans from 2017-21.

“You don’t want to be messing up, doing this and doing that,” Jarrett said. “He holds everybody to a high standard. I think he’s going to get the best out of the personnel that he’s working with. I can’t wait to play for him.”

Nielsen is pleased that Jarrett has been working hard this offseason.

“It’s fantastic,” Nielsen said. “It’s really good that the success that he’s had, it just shows that hard work pays off. He’s been here. He’s been fantastic. Engaged in the meetings, individual (drills) and all of those things.”

Nielsen has high expectations for Jarrett.

“You can just see in the time that we’ve been together a few things that he’s done, man, that’s a good football player,” Nielsen said. “You’re fired up about getting the pads on and going form there.”

Smith is elated that Jarrett has been on hand.

“You can make a ton of improvement,” Smith said. “When I say that, it’s not dismissing this time of year, but it’s putting things into context about what ultimately it is going to come down to is how people perform in August throughout the (exhibition) season as we lead up to regular season when you (have) got to make that last – well now there’s one giant cutdown.”

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