The Falcons were projected to compete for the Super Bowl LIII title in the 2018 season, but injuries robbed the team of key players on defense.
The unit failed to meet expectations, in part, because of injuries to strong safety Keanu Neal (missed 15 games), linebacker Deion Jones (10 games), free safety Ricardo Allen (13 games), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (two games) and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (one game).
The reserves were not as talented, and the remaining starters did not step forward to pick up the slack.
The purge has started, as the Falcons moved on from starting right cornerback Robert Alford, nickel back Brian Poole and defensive end Brooks Reed. The team reportedly wants Poole back at a lower price, but he’ll likely get a substantially better offer on the open market.
Also, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was terminated at the end of the season.
Here’s the seventh installment of our unit-by-unit review of the 2018 team. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the cornerbacks. Today, the linebackers.
Who: Jones, DeAndre Campbell, Foye Oluokun, Duke Riley, Bruce Carter and Kemal Ishmael
Contract/free agent situation: The team elected to re-sign Carter to a one-year contract. Ishmael is set to become a free agent.
What they did in season: When Jones went down with a broken foot in the season opener, Campbell stepped forward and took over the communications role for part of the season. While not making many splash plays, Campbell went on to lead the team in tackles with 94. He also had 1.5 sacks, four tackles for losses and three quarterback hits. Oluokun, who had a successful rookie campaign, unseated Riley and finished second on the team with 89 tackles.
The Falcons liked his length and ability to cover down field. Against the Packers, he broke up a pass 40 yards down the field while covering tight end Jimmy Graham.
The sixth-round pick from Yale played in all 16 games and made seven starts.
Riley did not blossom in his second season in the league. He continued to take curious paths to ball carriers and was eventually benched. He ended up with 57 tackles and played 220 snaps on special teams.
Jones returned to play in the final five games of the season and helped to stabilize the unit down the stretch. He finished with 53 tackles and two interceptions.
Carter and Ishmael played sparingly, but were both stout against the run.
Carter played in 11 games last season and had 21 tackles and seven special teams tackles.
In 101 career games, Carter, a former starter with the Cowboys, has 327 tackles, five sacks and 14 quarterback hits. He has started 36 games.
Carter was drafted by the Cowboys in the second round of the 2011 draft. He’s also spent some time with the Buccaneers.
Snap counts: Campbell (899 defensive snaps), Oluokun (527), Riley (407), Jones (383), Carter (78), Ishmael (64), Nelson (0) and Jarvis (0).
Monday: Defensive line
Friday: Special teams
Tuesday: Running backs
Wednesday: Offensive line
Thursday: Wide receivers
Friday: Tight ends
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.