This is the first of a 10-part position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster after their offseason program.
When the Falcons report for training camp on July 26, one of the major questions will revolve around the defensive line.
While Vic Beasley is slated to return to defensive end full time, the team must replace last season’s leading sacker (DE Adrian Clayborn) and defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Also, reserve tackles Courtney Upshaw and Ahtyba Rubin were not re-signed.
Clayborn, who led the team with 9.5 sacks, signed with New England in free agency while Poe signed with Carolina. The Falcons look for second-year player Takkarist McKinley to step into Clayborn’s spot at right defensive end while rookie Deadrin Senat and veteran Terrell McClain look to replace Poe.
The key will be how fast the Falcons can get Senat ready to play in the NFL trenches after a solid career at South Florida.
“I try to do as much as I can to try to slow it down for him and let him know what to expect,” defensive line coach Bryant Young said of the 6-foot, 314-pound Senat. “I don’t want to overwhelm him. I want to simplify it so that he can play faster.”
“He’s a guy that plays with good leverage,” Young added. “There are guys that are strong in the weight room that don’t apply it on the field and vice versa, but he’s a guy that when you watch the film, he has good power.”
McClain, who’s entering his eighth NFL season, played with Washington in 2017 and was originally a third-round pick by Carolina in 2011.
“He’s a guy that’s been around and has experience,” Young said. “He’s a good run defender. He could help us up front. He’s a big guy who competes and finishes. He runs to the ball. I think he’ll help us in being able to push the pocket as well.”
There’s no question at the other defensive tackle position as Grady Jarrett, who is set to enter his fourth year, has improved steadily after being a fifth-round selection in 2015.
“I’m hoping for a big year, so I’ve just been grinding really hard,” Jarrett said.
The 6-foot, 305 pound Jarrett is disruptive with his combination of speed and power. He led the defensive line with 794 snaps (75.3 percent) and played 76 snaps on special teams (18 percent).
“For him, every year it’s been a growth year,” Young said. “If he continues to and he wants it in that way, continues to get better every year, it’s really good for him, our group and our team.”
Beasley led the league in sacks with 15.5 in 2016 and was named All-Pro. Last season, he split time between defensive end and strongside linebacker. His sacks dropped to five.
“I think just being a defensive end solely, it frees him up to play more first or second down nickel and be available in that way and be fresher during the course of the game,” Young said. “Not that he couldn’t handled it because I thought he did a good job of handling the (strongside linebacker) and playing defensive end. Just having him available to play more reps at defensive end will be good for us.”
Coming Tuesday: Linebackers
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 18, Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Reggie Davis, 86 Lamar Jordan, 16 Taj Williams
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 68 Austin Pasztor, 76 Daniel Brunskill
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow, 75 Jamil Douglas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 J.C. Hassenauer
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.