This is the sixth of a 10-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster after their offseason program. Coming Tuesday: Linebackers. When the Falcons report for training camp on July 26, Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer will battle for the vacant starting right guard position.
Improving the defensive line was the Falcons’ highest priority this offseason as they poured $28.5 million into the renovation project.
After saying good-bye to former defensive line coach Bryan Cox and hiring Bryant Young, they signed defensive tackle Dontari Poe (one-year, $8 million) and defensive end Jack Crawford (three years, $10.3 million) in free agency and drafted defensive end Takkarist McKinley (four years, $10.2 million) in the first-round of the NFL draft.
The team elected not to re-sign 12-year veteran Jonathan Babineaux and released veteran Tyson Jackson.
With a stouter interior of Poe and Grady Jarrett, the Falcons are hoping that Vic Beasley can build on his breakthrough season in which he lead the league in sacks with 15.5.
With that success, Beasley knows he’s going to get more attention from opponents in 2017. He started to see extra blockers late last season.
“I’m going to accept the attention,” Beasley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during minicamp. “I know some of the elite pass rushers in the league like Khalil (Mack) and Von (Miller), they get a lot of attention just like that.”
In addition to his sacks, Beasley last season led the team with 16.5 quarterback hits and 33.5 hurries. Totaled with his sacks, he affected the quarterback on 65.5 plays and was named first-team All-Pro.
Beasley, who added some countermoves to his pass rush last season under the guidance of Cox and future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney, has been working on how best to maneuver through more traffic.
He’s expecting tight ends or running backs to chip on him sometimes. He also expects that some teams may pop him with a tight end and have a running back waiting to block in the backfield. In that case, he’ll have three blockers to beat on his path to the quarterback.
McKinley, a defensive end from UCLA, will join the group in training camp once he’s cleared from shoulder surgery.
Young hopes to have a more balanced pass rush, or at least one that will not allow the opposition to dedicate extra resources to stopping Beasley.
The Falcons have high hopes for Jarrett, who had six sacks last season, including three in the Super Bowl.
“I see him trying to find small ways to find that edge in his game and building on that,” coach Dan Quinn said. “Building on that connection with his new position coach. New techniques. Things to study. Things to look at. He’s going for it in the biggest way.
“He looks healthy. He looks strong. Very fit. I see his arrow really going up.”
Young added: “Grady has definitely picked up where he left off. Nothing is different for him in terms of his work ethic. That’s always been there. He’s a young guy who is really growing.”
Jarrett took the most snaps on the defensive line during the 2016 regular season with 630.
Crawford, who was last with Dallas, made a good impression over the offseason.
“Jack is a relentless in his pursuit,” Young said. “He’s a very hard, tough and competitive individual. I just really love that about him.”
Also, the Falcons welcomed back defensive end/tackle Derrick Shelby, who has a base salary of $4.5 million, from his Achilles surgery that shortened his 2016 season. He returned during minicamp.
“The progress for him has been good,” Young said. “He’s been able to get in to some of our individual stuff and group work as well. His progress has been really good.”
Shelby tore his right Achilles against Seattle on Oct. 16 and later was placed on injure reserve.
With Shelby and Crawford among the defensive ends, the Falcons will have some depth when you count Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and McKinley. Also, Ra’Shede Hageman and Courtney Upshaw played some end last season, too.
“We have some guys that can play,” Young said.
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 13 Devin Fuller, 15 Nick Williams, 16 Anthony Dable, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee
FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 39 Tyler Renew
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley, 96 Martin Ifedi
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 74 Taniela Tupou
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom
SLB 59 DeVondre Campbell, 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, Jack Lynn
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 52 Josh Keyes
WLB 36 Kemal Ishmael, 42 Duke Riley, 56 Jermaine Grace, 55 J’Terius Jones
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 25 Akeem King, 39 Janor Jones, 38 Taylor Reynolds
NB 34 Brian Poole, 33 Blidi-Wreh-Wilson, 27 Damontae Kazee
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 32 Jalen Collins, 30 Deji Olatoye, 41 Quincy Mauger
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Marcelis Branch
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 48 Jordan Moore, 49 Deron Washington
K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 38 Brian Hill
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC