Falcons linebackers are ready to put the pads on

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons have made several changes to their linebackers group.

Troy Andersen is in line for the starting weakside position with the addition of Kaden Elliss.

Mykal Walker is playing all three positions, and Lorenzo Carter is being switched from an outside linebacker to more of traditional “hand in the dirt” defensive end.

“You can see the versatility in guys like Mykal Walker that are cross-trained,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Saturday. “Certainly, I think Kaden Elliss is doing a really good job. He’s a smart football player.”

Andersen, who played in all 17 games and made five starts as a rookie, is coming along.

“I like where Troy is at,” Smith said. “It certainly helped with the snaps that he played and the impact that he made.”

Andersen was taken in the second round (58th overall) out of Montana State in the 2022 draft. He made 69 tackles as he played 481 defensive snaps (43%) last season.

“There is nothing that is going to replicate reps,” Smith said.

Videos of Andersen chasing around rookie running back Bijan Robinson in the first week of training camp went viral on social media. Andersen is working on his coverage skills, and he’s possibly going to see Saints running back Alvin Kamara in coverage in the coming season.

“Bijan is the real deal,” Andersen said. “He’s extremely athletic. Extremely quick. Hopefully we are going to make each other better. Just competing every day and trying to improve.”

The linebackers, as a whole, were looking forward to the first padded practice Monday.

“The first day of pads on is always intense and passionate,” Andersen said. “It’s real football. I guess when you’re out there in jerseys it’s not necessarily football, so it will be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

Andersen plans to be a three-down linebacker.

“That’s the goal every single day is to improve and get better,” Andersen said. “Work on your skills so that you can play every single down. Just detailed and dialed in and learn the game.”

Andersen feels more comfortable early in his second season.

“It’s not necessarily easier, but you’re definitely more comfortable and just used to the situation,” he said. “You are used to playing in the NFL and being a part of the team, which in turn somewhat makes it easer. But football is hard.”

Elliss came over from the Saints along with new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. He’s helped Andersen with the terminology and the defensive signals.

“You’re always trying to absorb knowledge and learn from the older guys,” Anderson said. “It’s awesome to have Kaden in the (group), who’s been in this system for (years). He’s super knowledgeable, smart. I can lean on him out on the field to make adjustments and calls. It’s been awesome. There are lot of other vets, Calais and Jessie on the defensive side of the ball, who have been extremely helpful.”

Walker was the opening-game starter last season alongside Rashaan Evans at inside linebacker in the Falcons’ 3-4 alignment under former defensive coordinator Dean Pees. He’s getting work at the middle, weakside and strongside linebacker spots.

“Just like every year that I’ve been here, its inside and outside,” Walker said. “They are finally letting me add the Sam (strong side). The last three years it was always Mike (middle), Will (weak side), now it’s Mike, Will and Sam. It’s a good transition.”

Walker likes the added role.

“I was never really cross-training,” Walker said. “We don’t have to get up and move. We all know each other’s jobs. Certain things will happen in the offense that will force us to change positions, and that’s where we are at.”

Like Andersen, he’s looking forward to the first padded practice.

“It’s going to be a war zone out here,” Walker said. “I’m going to tell you. It’s definitely a message that our coaches have been putting out there. Nielsen is very passionate about being attacking and aggressive. It’s going to be really good to be out there. It’s less running, and we can hit them.”

Carter is ready for his role change.

“It still takes some getting used to,” Carter said. “Going from linebacker where I’m dropping a lot to not as much linebacker to more traditional role. At the end of the day it’s football. When you get to attack, attacking is the name of the game. Just having the chance to attack more is great to me. Great for our defense.”

Carter is listed at 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds. He’ll be battling 300-pound offensive tackles.

He talked to his nutritionist and discussed either adding weight or doing more weightlifting.

“I don’t think size has a lot to do about it,” Carter said. “It’s more about the mental and how you attack every day.”

Carter believes he can make the change.

“It’s my job to keep working and make that vision come to life,” Carter said. “I don’t think it’s as big of a change that people think. At the end of the day, you are setting the edge and trying to get after the quarterback.”