Dante Fowler wants to make good music on Falcons defense

Falcons linebacker Dante Fowler (56) shares a laugh with teammates during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons linebacker Dante Fowler (56) shares a laugh with teammates during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Falcons outside linebacker Dante Fowler clearly is a fan of the movie “Drumline.”

In the movie, the band director Dr. Lee, played by Orlando Jones, preached about playing in a certain style for fictional Atlanta A&T college.

That’s the same philosophy the Falcons’ defense plans to take this season.

“We must all be on one accord,” Fowler said. “One band. One sound. I think if we can do that in this defense, everybody do their job and do their role, we can make a great play every play.”

Fowler is a key piece to the operation. After his second stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Fowler is being eased into the new defense at right and left outside linebacker. He’s familiar with new defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ approach from his days playing for former Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

“Coach Pees does a real good job of drawing stuff up, getting pressure on the quarterback,” Fowler said. “Setting up big plays, interceptions and all type of stuff. All we have to do is do our job.”

In the new alignment, Fowler must play the run, rush on most passing downs and occasionally drop into coverage.

Fowler plans to do his part and be ready when the Falcons open the regular season Sept. 12 against the Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Fowler enjoyed watching the backups ring up four sacks in the exhibition opener against the Titans on Aug. 6.

“Yeah, that was dope,” Fowler said.

He particularly liked safety Jaylinn Hawkins getting a sack off a safety blitz.

“Just to see Jaylinn out there making plays,” Fowler said. “Just to see the defense line out there making plays. Jonathan Bullard got to make a play. I haven’t seen him get a sack since college. That was pretty cool. That brought me back to the (University of Florida) days at Ben Griffin Stadium. But that was really cool and nice.”

Fowler also was watching his position, where rookie Ade Ogundeji and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner were stalking from the outside linebacker posts.

“Ade did a really good job,” Fowler said. “Tuioti-Mariner did a good job of rushing the passer when he was in there, too. It was exciting to see what it’s going to be like.”

While out of action at the start of training camp, Fowler just tried to stay in shape. He said he didn’t feel like he fell behind.

How Fowler is able to attack from the edges of the defense will depend on how the interior of the line is playing. Defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison and Bullard are moving around the line.

“Just mixing around guys, putting people in different places,” Jarrett said. “Everybody has got to learn how to play both sides, whether it’s right or the left side. Whether it’s me playing right defensive tackle or left defensive tackle, that’s something that I want to do anyway as a player.”

While the Falcons have the 3-4 as their base alignment, Pees plans to move players around, including Fowler.

“They are definitely trying to get certain looks, whether it is certain defense or personnel, mixing it up so that we can get the best group on the field in the right situation at the right time,” Jarrett said.

Bullard, a former third-round pick of the Bears in 2016, has been a key addition. He has played with the Bears (2016-18), Arizona (2019) and Seattle (2020) and adds some bulk at 6-foot-3 and 296 pounds.

“Just opportunity and little bit of familiarity with the defense,” Bullard said. “When I got the call, I just felt like this was the best spot for me, best opportunity for me to come in and get a chance to help out a team, so I took it.”

Fowler, who played with Bullard at Florida, has been getting some jabs in over his sack.

“Yeah, yeah, we’ve been talking junk,” Bullard said. “I told him that he can’t talk to me until he gets a sack this year. Obviously, he’s not playing, so I’ve got three weeks to talk junk to him about it.”

Coach Arthur Smith apparently tagged some starters who will not play in the exhibition games. Bullard believes that will not hinder Fowler’s preparation for the season.

“I’m sure he’s going to end up with 10 or 12 (sacks) this year, or whatever he does,” Bullard said. “That’s my guy. I’m not going to put the number on it, but I know he’s determined and ready to go. I’m excited to see him. I’m excited to play with him again.”

So, Fowler’s not playing this exhibition season?

“He’s worked his way to where he doesn’t have to play in the (exhibition games),” Bullard said. “Well-deserved for those guys. We just talk junk, and I just pick with him.”

Bullard believes the defense is coming together.

“It’s a new defense with a lot of stuff,” Bullard said. “We are still learning, but it’s been a good learning curve. We have a few more weeks. Good group of guys, good veterans who are working hard. Everybody is buying in, which I think is the best thing. I just think if we put our head down and keep working, come Week 1 we’ll be prepared.”

Bullard was attractive to the Falcons, who had a couple of young defensive tackles in Deadrin Senat and Marlon Davidson. Senat has since been cut, and Davidson missed this past week with a knee injury after playing well against Tennessee’s backups.

“He’s played live NFL snaps, so you actually get a decent evaluation on him,” Smith said of Bullard. “We had guys that have some familiarity with him on the (coaching) staff and on the scouting side. We brought him in here, and like a lot of these free agents, it’s a balance because the (salary) cap number went down.”

Bullard has impressed the staff.

“We feel fortunate we were able to sign some of the guys that we did,” Smith said. “He’s been in there competing, and we like what he’s shown us so far.”

Jarrett has welcomed Bullard with open arms.

“Bull has been a good addition to our team, playing multiple positions along the defensive line,” Jarrett said. “He’s making good impact, whether it’s rushing the passer or stopping the run. I’ve always been a fan of Bullard’s game. I’m excited to be on the same team with him.”

Jarrett believes the defense can make some good music, too.

One band. One sound.

“That’s a statement within itself,” Jarrett said. “We all have to be on the same page. I heard that on Drumline. Yeah, we have to be on the same page.”

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