Linebacker Arnold Ebiketie brings diligent work ethic to Falcons’ pass rush

Falcons OLB Arnold Ebiketie (47) participates during rookie minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Practice Facility in Flowery Branch on Saturday, May 14, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Falcons OLB Arnold Ebiketie (47) participates during rookie minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Practice Facility in Flowery Branch on Saturday, May 14, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH - The Falcons’ second-round selection of Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie filled a need that couldn’t have been more pressing - its pass rush.

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Last season, the Falcons ranked last in the NFL in sacks and had 11 fewer sacks (18) than the next-closest team, the Philadelphia Eagles (29). The Falcons released their only defender with more than two sacks in 2021, Dante Fowler, and though they signed former Giant Lorenzo Carter to a one-year deal, they spent the bulk of their free-agency resources adding veterans to the secondary.

The Falcons are looking to Ebiketie, the 38th overall pick in the draft, to be an immediate part of the solution to the pass rush. For Ebiketie, the pressure of being the first defender that the Falcons selected hasn’t changed his approach in rookie minicamp.

“I’m confident in my potential and know I’m going to come in and put the work in,” Ebiketie said. “One of my coaches used to say, ‘You have to earn your keep.’ I intend to come out every day and work at trying to earn my spot.”

A Temple Owl for the first three seasons of his collegiate career, Ebiketie transferred to Penn State and made the all-Big Ten team in his lone season in Happy Valley. Ebiketie, a Silver Spring, Md., product, registered 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 2021, ranking in the top three in the Big Ten in both categories.

After making a jump from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten last summer, Ebiketie is transitioning from the college game to the NFL. While his adjustment to the pro level is more significant, he said the college transition has helped mold his approach to learning the Falcons’ defense and playbook.

“I’m expecting that learning curve,” Ebiketie said. “Good and bad, I can’t let anything discourage me. I’ve just got to stick to what I know and that’s putting the work in.”

So far, Ebiketie’s learning curve has gone beyond just learning the scheme and extended to the technical nuances, such as adapting from the three-point stance he used in college to almost exclusively lining up in a two-point stance. While he is listed at outside linebacker and will bolster the Falcons’ pass rush, he didn’t rule out working with the pass coverage and said he is ready to do whatever defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs.

Along with his work on the Flowery Branch practice fields, Ebiketie’s dedication to studying the game, whether of opponents or top pass rushers in the league, could be another asset in his acclimation to the pro level. He lists Von Miller, Nick Bosa and T.J. Watt as inspiration in his own game and hopes to emulate their consistency in establishing himself as an elite pass rusher.

“A consistent pass rusher can do it almost every single play,” Ebiketie said. “It really comes down to being consistent and working on your craft and studying the game.”

Ebiketie called his progress in the mental side of rookie minicamp “fantastic” through the first two days. Even though he should have the opportunity to contribute in his rookie season, he’s kept his focus on taking small steps this spring.

“I don’t want to look too much ahead,” Ebiketie said. “I want to live in the present and that’s getting better.”