Linebacker Troy Andersen is embracing a more defined role in Falcons’ defense

FLOWERY BRANCH -- For inside linebacker Troy Andersen, one of the more jarring differences in his transition from playing football at Montana State to the NFL wasn’t related to terminology or the drills on the field.

His first day at rookie minicamp at Falcons headquarters had temperatures in the low 70s and no snow in sight.

“It’s a little more humid and a little less snow,” the Dillon, Mont., product said of his new locale. “It snowed a couple days before I came down here, so that’s a nice change-up, I guess.”

Andersen, one of the Falcons’ second-round picks (No. 58 overall), comes to the Atlanta area after having dominated FCS competition at Montana State. He played all over the field as a Bobcat, earning all-Big Sky selections at three positions: quarterback, outside linebacker and his current position with the Falcons, inside linebacker. His speed also made him a standout in the Montana State backfield – Andersen ranks second on program’s all-time leaderboard with 33 rushing touchdowns. He also played running back for the Bobcats.

With the Falcons, Andersen will stick to defense and is listed exclusively at inside linebacker. While the 2021 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year said he is willing to take on any assignment, he is embracing his more defined role.

“It’s awesome playing inside linebacker,” Andersen said. “You’re having such a direct impact on the game. To play for coach (Frank) Bush and coach (Dean) Pees, it’s awesome. To just sit in the rooms with them, they have so much experience coaching and have been everywhere, seen everything.”

Through the draft process, Andersen made his case as one of the draft’s top linebacker prospects with a 4.42 40-yard dash - best among all linebackers - and a 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump, along with a strong Senior Bowl performance. He was the third inside linebacker to come off the board and joins outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie, the 38th overall pick, in the Falcons’ rookie class.

“Speed helps,” Andersen said. “The game is so fast these days, to be able to run with extremely athletic tight ends and receivers and backs, you have to have short-area quickness and long speed as well. Hopefully my athletic skill set can help me with that.”

Andersen’s selection bolsters an inside linebacker group that will have a new look in 2022. The Falcons lost Foyesade Oluokun, the NFL’s leading tackler last season, in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but added Rashaan Evans, formerly a Tennessee Titan, on a one-year deal. The unit also boasts a Pro Bowler in Deion Jones, who has started 16 games each of the past three seasons and ranked 10th league-wide with 87 solo tackles last season.

Andersen plans to use rookie minicamp to familiarize himself with defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ system and play calls. Though he has been lining up only on defense, his unique background and versatility have helped a bit, too.

“Once you learn the initial defense and feel comfortable with it, just the special awareness and understanding how quarterbacks think about the game and running backs,” Andersen said. “I do think it’s helped me, but right now you’re drinking out of a fire hose trying to learn the defense.”