Deadrin Senat knows there’s a gaping hole in the middle of the Falcons’ defense.
The rookie third-round draft pick from South Florida got his first chance to show the Falcons that he can hold up in the NFL trenches during a Red-White scrimmage on Monday.
“We picked two teams and tried to create a game day roster of 42 guys,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
It was the team’s first padded scrimmage of training camp.
“I’m just learning from everybody,” defensive tackle Senat said. “Now, we have pads on and it’s time to show. But everything is going (well). Every day, I’m progressively getting better.”
With money to shell out to quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Jake Matthews and eventually defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and free safety Ricardo Allen, the Falcons didn’t have enough money to retain the services of defensive tackle Dontari Poe. After a season with the Falcons, the massive Poe, who was listed at 340 pounds, left in free agency. He signed a three-year, $28 million deal with the Panthers.
It wasn’t just Poe, who played 786 defensive snaps, that the Falcons elected to let go. The team moved on from defensive tackles Courtney Upshaw (200 snaps), Ahtyba Rubin (147), Joe Vellano (65) and Tania Tupou (seven). Collectively, those five players accounted for 1,205 snaps at the position.
“I’m embracing it and I’m just taking my (opportunities),” Senat said. “I have a great (opportunity) here. I’m getting a lot of reps here with the veterans. It’s going really, really good for me.”
The Falcons drafted Senat and signed journeyman Terrell McClain to a one-year $4 million deal in free agency to help fill the voids. They will also get Jack Crawford back from injury and he can play some tackle in pass-rushing situations.
Early in training camp, McClain has worked with the first team, while Senat has been eased in to the action.
Senat doesn’t feel pressure to replace Poe.
“I don’t normally pay that any mind,” Senat said. “I believe that the head coach, the (general manager) and everybody that contributed to bringing me here, they have a plan for me. ... We have a lot of time for me to get ready and contribute in any way they want me to contribute to this team.”
Senat has a lot of help. In addition to being coached by former Pro Bowl and All-Pro NFL defensive tackle Bryant Young, Grady Jarrett has been assigned to be his big brother to help mentor him.
“He’s been really helpful for me,” Senat said of Jarrett. “He’s been showing me the ropes and teaching me things here and there just to (improve) my game.”
Jarrett, a former fifth-round pick, has embraced the role.
“Really just how to work and how to study,” Grady said of his lesson plan for Senat. “How to go day-by-day, just any questions that he has (for) me, I’m there to answer them. Whether if it’s about on the field, meeting room or weight room, it’s good to be a big brother to somebody and help them along in their professional career.”
There is a bond forming between the two linemen.
“I love him,” Senat said. “We are getting close to each other. We are just having a good time in meetings. I’m getting feedback from him every day. On the field, we are just doing so much stuff. I’m always paired up with him. I’m always learning.”
Senat, who had a rough upbringing and lost both of his parents, is soaking up all of the information he can get.
“Coming from playing college, you can get away with certain things,” Senat said he has noticed. “In the league, everybody is good and there are certain things that you can do and there are certain things that are a big no-no. They’ll get you jammed up. He’s been teaching me the ropes and constantly reminding me.”
Senat likes working with Young.
“He’s one of the best,” Senat said. “Just things he can teach and show you, it’s unbelievable. Just to have that knowledge and have somebody who played the game coach you.
“I’m actually excited every day I get to go meet with him and learn from him. Every word that he says, I’m writing it down even if he’s not talking to me. It’s just that he’s been through it and he can talk you through it.”
After lifting 225 pounds 35 times at the scouting combine, no one questioned whether Senat would be strong enough to play in the NFL. During training before the combine, he said he had 37 lifts at the weight.
“Now, it’s all about skills and technique,” Senat said. “The weight room stuff is perfect, but it’s more about just being strong. It’s about being about to bend, being able to move. That’s what I pride my game in, being able to move, trying to be flexible. Just trying to be everything that people think I lack.”
Senat is also trying to learn some of the tricks of the trade from the team’s offensive linemen, especially center Alex Mack.
“Everybody’s technique is up to par,” Senat said. “You (must) bring your technique up to par. There are certain things that you can’t get away with. You just can’t muscle your way around anymore.”