FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The way Arnold Ebiketie found out Ryan Nielsen would be his new defensive coordinator is a bit of a humorous tale. The story goes that Ebiketie was out in Los Angeles enjoying the early days of the offseason when he received a text from an unknown number claiming to be someone by the name of Ryan Nielsen. Some time later, that unknown number called, again claiming to be Nielsen. (Spoiler alert: It was).
"And who is that?" Ebiketie remembers thinking (and likely saying).
"Your new DC," was the response.
It's something they can laugh about now what with it being a funny introduction and all. During that call Nielsen explained to Ebiketie how excited he was to work with him.
"We're going to put a lot of work in," Ebiketie recalls Nielsen saying to him. "That's what we intend to do."
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For Ebiketie's part, he was already putting in some work on his own because he already had a goal in mind with 2022 turning into 2023.
Like many rookies, their first year is all about the learning curve. Ebiketie's first year in the league last year was no different. And one of the main points he took with him from his first year into his second year was that there was work to be done with his body to be able to better withstand the much-longer professional season than the college one these players come from.
This isn't an uncommon decision young players come to in their first years in the league. After all, it's a strategy they have to often times lean into as muscle and weight falls off as the season churns on. You can't exert that much energy and expect it to not.
"I think for me personally the main thing that I have to do is add a little bit more weight to my frame," Ebiketie said during the Falcons OTAs last month. "That was something that I made an emphasis on this offseason. I think I have a couple more pounds to go to be at the right weight I want to be leading up to camp."
Asked whether or not this is something the coaching staff asked him to do in the offseason, Ebiketie said no, not really. It was something he wanted to do for himself.
"The main point of this year is to be aggressive and be physical," Ebiketie said, "and in order to do that you have to be in the best shape. You have to make sure your body weight can hold up through a longer season."
Along with the idea of bulking up, Ebiketie also said a goal of his in Year 2 is to turn some of his 11 quarterback hits in 2022 into sacks in 2023. Ebiketie laughed, saying yeah, he knows he left a lot of money on the field last year. He wants to rectify that.
The way to do that, he said, is to make sure his intensity doesn't wane. He wants to last through all 17 games, and that's why he's putting such a personal emphasis on adding bulk to his frame in the offseason.
"The goal is to go all the way," he said. "That's something I am definitely working on."
And that intensity, aggression and physicality Ebiketie is speaking of? It's all aligning with his new defensive coordinator's philosophy as well. Those words are the same ones Nielsen uses to describe the ultimate goals of this defensive unit in 2023.
So, now, Nielsen and Ebiketie are speaking the same language.
"You can feel it. You can definitely feel the intent. The intent to be violent every time we're out there on the field," Ebiketie said of his unit. "As a defense our identity is to be able to go out there and be the most physical defense. You can feel it because (Nielsen) preaches it every day."