FLOWERY BRANCH -- After the Falcons finished last in the NFL with 18 sacks last season, coach Arthur Smith has continued to express throughout this offseason the need for the defensive line to get going.
“Somebody needs to take a step,” Smith said at the start of OTAs. “Somebody needs to step up. Nick Thurman has a shot. We’ve got to get some more interior pass rush.”
Eight-year veteran defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has led the defense and done more than enough to prove his worth. So much so, the Falcons signed him to a three-year contract extension in May, solidifying him as someone the Falcons look to build their 2022 defense around.
Defensive linemen Marlon Davidson and Ta’Quon Graham have been working this offseason to prove that they can provide the support Jarrett needs.
“I’m just trying to prove to people that I’ve got a lot left,” Davidson said.
Going into his third season with the Falcons, many believe that Davidson has not lived up to his expectations.
In his first two seasons as a Falcon, Davidson faced many different obstacles holding him back from producing much on defense. Davidson had two solo tackles and six assists in eight games in the 2020 season. Throughout that season, he battled a knee injury that took him out for the final two weeks of the regular season.
Showing improvement despite missing two games because of an ankle injury, Davidson had 12 solo tackles, one sack, and one interception in the 2021 season in 11 games. He showed Falcons fans his potential with a pick-six off Tom Brady in Week 16.
Since the end of the season, Davidson has been working to get his mind right to get back to his playing roots, especially during OTAs and minicamp.
“Getting my mind prepared mostly over anything, getting my mental good and then worrying about everything else. I’m really just trying to play, and get my feet wetter and just have fun,” Davidson said. “Taking it back to the old-school ways of having fun, playing together and playing for each other.
“It’s reps, it’s reps. Everything is repetitive,” Davidson said. “Muscle memory over everything. Just being out here. You know, being out here playing football, everything gets better.”
During his rookie season, Graham showed promise as a rotational defender. A fifth-round pick from Texas, Graham concluded last season with 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and five hurries in 13 games.
“From a confidence standpoint, I feel like the more confident you are, the better that you play and later through the season, I saw my play getting more confident and better and better,” Graham said. “So, going into Year 2, I’ve got to come in with that same mentality, always getting better between each week and also to keep my confidence on.”
Graham already has his eyes on the coming season and is looking to come back stronger.
“I want to get running from the start,” Graham said. “I want to start fast, but I also want to get better after each and every week, and I want to line up and play wherever I can help the team at. I feel like I can play anywhere up and down the line, and I feel like if I start fast and I start early, it will be pretty good for my confidence as well.”
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