The Atlanta Falcons were back at the Branch this week preparing for their upcoming game against the Dolphins. The team is on the road again on Saturday in the third week of the 2015 preseason.
Since the Falcons gave Marcus Mariota fits during his NFL debut, much has been made about Dan Quinn's effective, high-energy pass rush. Vic Beasley, Jr. has (deservedly) garnered heaps of compliments; talented newcomer Adrian Clayborn has received a lot of positive attention, as well.
While those two have been effective, they haven't been the only D-linemen to thrive under Quinn. Not to be forgotten is the longest-tenured member of Atlanta's defense: Jonathan Babineaux.
A second-round draft pick in 2005, Babineaux, 33, enjoyed a prosperous training camp this summer—his 11th at Flowery Branch—and followed that up with two solid preseason efforts. Currently, his Pro Football Focus grade, though volatile at this stage, ranks second on the Falcons' D.
Not a bad start for the unit's senior member.
"I'm still working on progressing," he said Tuesday. "I'm not where I want to be, of course; there's still a lot of work to do. Luckily we have two more games to get ready before the opener. But so far, I've been enjoying myself, I've having fun with my teammates learning the system."
Babineaux is quite fond of Quinn's system, which, at its most basic level, suits him well. Built for the 4-3 formation, he's able to play to his strengths and return to the inside, where he's spent most of his career.
His comfort level at DT was apparent versus the Titans, when he bursted through a hole and forced a Mariota fumble. Seconds later, Paul Worrilow scooped up the ball and dashed to the end zone for six.
Babineaux wasn't technically awarded a sack or FF, but, as the tape shows, he obviously disrupted the QB.
His comfort was also obvious against New York. One highlight in particular stands out: With 1:49 left in the first quarter, Babineaux met running back Chris Ivory deep in the Jets' backfield for a four-yard loss. Ivory didn't stand a chance.
"We had a pressure on, and I just did what I was supposed to do in my assignment," Babineaux said. "And I made the play. I had to make that play for my teammates."
When asked what makes Quinn's approach unique, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound veteran gave a common answer: the simplicity. Instead of getting bogged down in complex responsibilities and confusing rhetoric, the players are able to rely on their natural skill to hinder opponents.
"It's just more of an attacking style," he explained. "We're not reading anything, we're just getting off the ball and getting to the backfield."
Versatile front seven defenders tend to thrive in Quinn's scheme, and Babineaux definitely brings that element to the table. We saw this last year when he shifted to defensive end in the 3-4 set; now, he's being shuffled along the interior in a number of roles.
"Good players can play in a lot of systems, and he's certainly one," Quinn said. "He's got strength enough in his upper body, (he has the) hands to play two-gap and then he's got the quickness to be a pass-rusher.
"I like how he can communicate on the field. He's seen so much ball. He's able to call some things out … he's off to a good start. He really is," Quinn said.
Of course, having Beasley, Clayborn and other effective options next to Babineaux aids him tremendously. It's been a while since the Falcons have had this much depth at D-line, and with the right mindset and good health, that group can quickly evolve into a strength.
"It makes it a lot easier to have those guys out there with speed," Babineaux said. "I don't have to get all the attention. Everybody has their own job now so we're going to make it very difficult for offenses to block us all."