Falcons rookie Ade Ogundeji ready if he needs to start for Dante Fowler

Falcons linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji (92) reacts after a play against the New York Jets Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The Falcons won 27-20. (Steve Luciano/AP)

Credit: AP

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Falcons linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji (92) reacts after a play against the New York Jets Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The Falcons won 27-20. (Steve Luciano/AP)

Credit: AP

FLOWERY BRANCH — With Dante Fowler not practicing because of a knee injury, promising rookie outside linebacker Ade Ogundeji may receive his first NFL start when the Falcons (2-3) play the struggling Miami Dolphins (1-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Ogundeji, a fifth-round pick from Notre Dame, played his most snaps of the season against the Jets and had two tackles, a sack and one tackle for loss. He played a season-high 30 defensive snaps (54%). Fowler played only 25 snaps (45%).

“It’s fun to be out here just playing football,” Ogundeji said. “I mean that’s my job so I love it, just going out here flying around and learning every single game. It’s been great.”

The Falcons have been slowly grooming Ogundeji.

He played 16 defensive snaps (23%) in the season opener against the Eagles. Then 21 defensive snaps against the Bucs (33%), 22 (32%) against the Giants in Week 3, and 16 (24%) against the Washington Football Team.

He didn’t play on special teams in the opener, but has since become a regular with 15 (50%), 10 (43%), 17 (63%) and 16 (67%) special-teams snaps.

“He’s coming along,” Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Every week getting a little better. Working really hard.”

There’s plenty of room for Ogundeji to grow.

“It’s like any rook, there’s a lot to learn and you’re seeing everything kind of for the first time,” Pees said. “It just takes a while. But I think for what we ask of him and what we’ve expected, he’s living up to expectations.”

Overall he has five tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.

“I’m really pleased with Ade,” said Ted Monachino, the Falcons’ outside linebackers coach. “Ade is an overachiever, which is huge, and that’s a good trait. We all understand that there are people that meet expectations and people that overachieve and underachieve.”

The Falcons like Ogundeji’s size and weight combination for the position in the 3-4 alignment. He’s 6-foot-4 and 268 pounds.

“There are some measurables that he has been blessed with,” Monachino said. “There are some things from an experience standpoint that he’s still working on. There’s not one situation that comes up in a practice or a game that I would be concerned to play Ade.”

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Falcons linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji (92) locks up with New York Jets offensive tackle George Fant (76) Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The Falcons won 27-20. (Steve Luciano/AP)

Credit: AP

Falcons linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji (92) locks up with New York Jets offensive tackle George Fant (76) Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The  Falcons won 27-20. (Steve Luciano/AP)

Credit: AP

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Falcons linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji (92) locks up with New York Jets offensive tackle George Fant (76) Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The Falcons won 27-20. (Steve Luciano/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ogundeji has been a good student and has learned his role in the defense.

“He’s growing great as a player,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “I knew he’d be a good player with the way he came into camp and worked. He’s still a super young guy, with the sky as the limit for him. He’s doing great things on his own. I’m proud of him getting his first sack.”

The veterans have helped Ogundeji, especially Steven Means.

“He’s an extremely great leader,” Ogundeji said. “Someone who cares about me and cares about what I do, not just on the field but off the field. He’s a great mentor.”

Ogundeji enjoyed getting his first sack against the Jets.

“It was a crazy experience,” Ogundeji said. “It was crazy. I was happy. That sack just shows that everybody was doing their jobs. Grady was up there in the middle helping me out. Means also and Dante also on the other side. So, everybody just helped me on that sack.”

With the Jets trying to rally, Ogundeji dropped quarterback Zach Wilson for a 9-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

“It was crazy,” Ogundeji said. “Getting your first one, it definitely means something special. I’m just trying to keep working and get some more.”

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts drags along Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji for extra yardage during the first half Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Eagles won 32-6. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts drags along Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji for extra yardage during the first half Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Eagles won 32-6. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts drags along Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji for extra yardage during the first half Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Eagles won 32-6. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Ogundeji is learning how to use film study more to help with his moves. At outside linebacker, he’s either attacking or at times dropping into coverage.

“I definitely try to focus on those positive plays, but I think for watching a game, I am more focused on the things I didn’t do well,” Ogundeji said. “Things that I could work on. Things that I could probably get a sack on, but didn’t. Things that I could work quicker to get a sack on or be quicker to get off a block and make a play.”

Ogundeji has been focused on his footwork and hand placement.

“Once I do the small things and really get down to footwork, it just becomes natural,” Ogundeji said. “It just becomes like I don’t have to worry about it. It’s gonna happen over time. So that’s, for me, it’s just working on those things constantly … so that when that happens in the game, it’s just natural. You’re just going out there playing.”

Ogundeji also is working on his pass-rush moves.

“I think that once the game goes on, you’ve got to realize that you (need) to mix it up,” Ogundeji said. “I feel like playing (defensive) line is like playing chess. You have to see what your opponent is doing and do different things to get by him.”

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