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Bair Mail: On Arnold Ebiketie and defining success for defensive rookies, Kaleb McGary, Drake London and depth charts

We also talk about Troy Andersen and what to make of that first defensive drive vs. Detroit

Tori and I were at Mercedes-Benz Stadium pretty late on Monday night, well after the evening's opening practice had wrapped.

I had a camp report to file and then we had a podcast to record, creating some down time for Tori while I finished writing. I probably would've gotten lost in social media or turned on an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine – it's my third rewatch – while I waited.


Not Tori. She's nicer than that. She volunteered to answer some mailbag questions before recording Falcons Final Whistle – it comes out later on Tuesday, so most of what you see below is her handiwork. I took the first question and she took the rest in this post-Lions, pre-Jets mailbag.

Let's get right to it.

Kingston Meyers from Los Angeles, Calif.

What would a successful rookie season look like for this year's rookie class on the defensive side of the ball?

Bair: I like the way that question is phrases, Kingston. It doesn't put benchmarks or outlandish stats on a young player's head. This is much better than asking if Arnold Ebiketie will have 10 sacks this season. Could he? Maybe. Will he? That might be tough.

I do think Ebiketie's expectations are higher than any other rookie defender, by nature of his draft slot at No. 38 overall and the opportunities he'll likely has as a presumptive regular in the rotation.

I think it's fair to say he'll make an instant impact, and we've seen flashes that his pass-rush ability will play at this level. So, if he creates steady pressure and sprinkles in some game-changing plays, that's a good start.

DeAngelo Malone's expectations could be relatively tempered. If he can find success as a special teams player and as someone who brings speed and energy to obvious passing situations that's a plus.

The Falcons can afford to be patient with Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen, with Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker available, and Deion Jones still on the roster. They can bring Andersen along at a proper pace, slotting him into roles that he earns over being forced into playing someone who isn't quite ready. So, to answer the question directly, Year 1 success for Andersen could focus on special teams work and possibly as a coverage option on passing downs.

And, with that, let the Tori Takeover commence.

Jason H. from Boca Raton, Fla.

The way Detroit offense moved the ball & manhandled our starting defense, should we be concerned about what we saw from our starting defense going into the season?

Tori: Hi Jason, I am glad you asked this question because Dean Pees actually addressed it in his press conference on Sunday. Here's what he said:

"I did not like the first drive, but there's something that actually comes good out of that. When you play a team that you haven't practiced against or you really haven't done a lot of scouting stuff, you don't know what you're going to see. You have to play to your rules. They hurt us with some runs early in that first drive. They averaged over five yards a run. The good thing was … we got to the sideline, made some adjustments and if you look, they averaged 3.1 (yards per carry) from that point on."

So, to answer your question Jason, I am not overly concerned about the defense given the one drive we saw on Friday, and it doesn't feel like Pees is either. Perhaps if there wasn't an obvious adjustment made then this would be a different answer, but for right now – through us only seeing one drive defended by the starting defense – there's no need to sound the alarm.

James E. from Gainesville, Ga.

Do you know why our #1 draft pick is fifth at his position on the depth chart? Is he struggling with the play book?

Tori: I'm going to be as straight forward as I can be in this answer: The depth chart is meaningless. If you take a look at the depth chart from last week, all of the rookies are last in their respective position groups. Arthur Smith does that on purpose. There is absolutely no correlation between their place on the depth chart and how much we'll see them play.

We take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions in the first preseason game of 2022.

Will S. from Summerville, Ga.

Hi, Scott, got a two-parter for you: Has McGary clearly kept his starting spot or has he just been a little better than anyone else? Secondly, Tori's piece reinforced how I've felt about Troy Andersen since he was drafted. His size, speed and football IQ will allow him to start sooner than later and make Deion and his cap hit expendable. Your thoughts? And thanks for the job all of y'all do.

Tori: When it comes to McGary, I tend to think he's clearly established himself at starting right tackle. Throughout two weeks of training camp it hasn't ever felt like Germain Ifedi was pushing McGary the way Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman were pushing each other, nor how Elijah Wilkinson was pushing Jalen Mayfield. It has truly felt like it's McGary's spot through and through.

When it comes to Andersen, first off: Thank you for reading the story. I really enjoyed putting it together, and it's given me a ton of ideas for the future. Second off: I think I may agree with you. Andersen is going to be a project simply because going from Montana State to the NFL is a major leap, but Andersen has consistently shown that he can make significant jumps. I like what you said about his football IQ. It's something that you recognize in him immediately when you talk to him. I know I am really excited to see what type of player Andersen grows into.

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