It’s been a struggle for Falcons defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann.
Finally, things are looking up as he’s battled back from an Achilles tendon surgery that caused him to miss most of the 2013 season.
After Biermann emerged from the shower area in the bowels of Raymond James Stadium after Sunday’s 27-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of his fellow defensive linemen shouted, “Now, that’s that … Kroy Biermann I’ve been waiting to see!”
A roar went up in the crowded room and several others chimed with congratulatory comments.
Biermann had just turned in a signature effort against the Bucs. He had 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and didn’t let Tampa Bay’s rushing attack get around his end.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said that it was Biermann’s best showing of the season. Even local sports-radio host Jamie Dukes of the “Rick & Jamie” show on 92.9 The Game, a former Falcons offensive lineman and one of Biermann’s harshest critics, publicly acknowledged Biermann’s fine play.
Expectations have been high for Biermann since defensive coordinator Mike Nolan started using him as a hybrid player. He’s part defensive end and part outside linebacker when the Falcons align in the 3-4 defense. You could see his rushing the passer or find him 20 yards down the field in pass coverage.
But the results were mixed over the first half of the season.
“I think that everybody has to step back and realize that Kroy had a very serious injury that he was dealing with in the offseason with the Achilles,” Smith said. “It takes some time. We brought him along slowly in training camp. I thought that he definitely played his best game (against Tampa Bay).”
With the Falcons trying to put together and surge in the second half of the season, they are hopeful that Biermann’s breakthrough in Tampa leads to stronger and more consistent play.
“Confidence is important,” Smith said. “I think he gained a lot of confidence in terms of what he got accomplished in the game against Tampa.”
Folks got to see Biermann, who got into a fight with prized rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews during the first practice of training camp, battle through the early stages on his return on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
The Falcons knew they had to exercise patience with Biermann while on the comeback trail.
“It terms of the torque that you put on it, the body lean, and of course, we are playing him both on the left and the right side and moving him around, it’s not like we can put him in a position where it would put less (pressure) on that Achilles tendon,” Smith said.
“He’s fought through and he worked his tail off all offseason. Sometimes those things are not just 12-month injuries. Sometimes they last a little bit longer.”
Biermann, who’s played 488 snaps is the fourth-ranked defensive end on the team. He’s the 40th ranked defensive end in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jonathan Massaquoi (263 snaps) is ranked 15th, Osi Umenyiora (223) is ranked 22nd and Malliciah Goodman (344 snaps) is ranked 39th.
Biermann has played the run on 234 snaps, the pass on 210 and dropped into coverage 44 times. His only positive grade is against the run on the season from Pro Football Focus.
He’s the fourth leading tackler on the team with 46, he has three pass breakups and leads the team with seven tackles for losses.
He is pleased with how his Achilles is holding up.
“It’s a process,” Biermann said. “It’s something that has definitely been unique. People go through it different ways. It’s just been a process, but it’s been a good one so far.”
Biermann wants to repeat the Tampa Bay performance.
“Again, I’ve got to keep working,” Biermann said. “Nothing is going to be handed to you in this league. I think if I stay on the track that I’m on, and approach it the way that I have approached it the last eight weeks, nine weeks. … You can’t sit back and expect things to get handed to you.”
The Falcons still harbor expectations that Biermann could turn into a force.
“He gives us some flexibility, and we’re very confident that he’ll be able to not only rush the passer, set the edge as a linebacker, but also be able to do some things in our pass coverage and drop into different zones,” Smith said.
Biermann, who’s in his seventh season out of Montana, has a supporter in Carolina coach Ron Rivera.
“I like Kroy,” Rivera said. “When you have a guy like Kroy Biermann who does so many different things for you, that’s a valuable asset. He’s a heck of a football player.”
Biermann and his linemates should have an opportunity to post some big numbers against the Panthers, who’ll start their sixth offensive line of the season because of injury. The Panthers gave up nine sacks in their last outing a 45-21 loss to the Eagles on “Monday Night Football.”
“They are men,” Biermann said. “They are going to come ready to play and … nobody likes to have a bad game. They are going to be motivated to try to right their wrong per se. It will be a completely different game.”
Biermann doesn’t want to dwell too much on the Tampa Bay performance.
“As a team we worked very hard to continue stay on the right track and get things going,” Biermann said. “For me, personally, I have, too. Every week I’ve approached it like it’s going to be my last game or my last practice. I just go out there with fire.
“I just have to keep working. I think I’m going in the right direction.”