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Camp report: Why 'set the tempo' is point of emphasis for David Onyemata, Grady Jarrett and Falcons defensive line

Richie Grant makes a nice pick on team's second practice in pads

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Attack and be aggressive.

That's the Falcons' new defensive mantra, preached by new coordinator Ryan Nielsen at every turn. There's no one who hasn't heard it by now, and succinctly sums up how the Falcons want to play at every level of their defense.

If we're talking specifically about the line, though a few of the veteran leaders had an offshoot of that philosophy that applies specifically to them.RELATED CONTENT:

Set the tempo. Dictate terms.

That's how a talented, deep defensive front wants to play up front.

"The main thing is being the guys who set the tempo. We want to dictate things," defensive tackle David Onyemata said. "They should go the way that we want them to go. That has been the mentality from the get-go, from the first day of OTAs.

"We can set it and demand certain things up front and make plays in the backfield. It's all about us working together and playing as a unit. Football is a team game, and we have to be on the same frequency."

They're getting there throughout training camp, forming cohesion among the starting front – save Calais Campbell, who is in the meeting rooms but hasn't practiced while on the NFI list – and among the reserves who will play important roles in the rotation.

You're starting to see it come together, with increased pressure generated during two padded practice. Ta'Quon Graham got an important sack late in Tuesday's practice, and most top linemen have had a moment or two in the sun.

Set the tempo. Dictate terms.

That doesn't mean the Falcons are always pushing up the field. They'll be smart approaching things from a schematic perspective, but they want to keep the opposition on their heels. That, above all else, is key.

"That's the most important thing for us up front," Graham said. "The line sets the tempo for the game. With the way Coach Nielsen has us playing mentally and physically on the field, we want to set the tempo and be aggressive at all times."

There's so much new up front, with veterans from different systems and different NFL experiences. They have different ways to making an impact and dictating terms. That's why the information exchange between established talents has been free flowing this summer as the linemen learn from new guys around them.

Whether it's moves or their thought process, what they see and how they take advantage of certain situations, you try to incorporate things from other players that you like," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "Maybe they take something from you, too. That's what we talk about. When you have a counterpart who is doing well, you want to learn from others. You have to be humble enough to take what someone has to give you. I'm trying to continue to grow and be the best player I can be. I also want to give what I know, too, because it's going to make us better in the end."

Injury update(s)

Matt Hennessy remains out while dealing with an issue from last season, which is believed to be a knee issue. TE Jonnu Smith was absent on Tuesday for an undisclosed reason and WR Scotty Miller was wearing a yellow non-contact jersey for the workout conducted in pads.

What stood out

S Richie Grant made a nice read and interception of QB Desmond Ridder on Tuesday, in the perfect place to make an easy pick. Ridder didn't look thrilled with WR Josh Ali after the play, so there might have been a miscommunication or imprecise route run. Tough to say without knowing the ins and outs of the play. … The Grant pick ended a situational drill where the offense was down three points and trying to score with little time on the clock. The second and third units didn't fare well, either, with an odd sequence to end practice. WR Penny Hart caught the ball on an intermediate route and thought he scored a touchdown, but Arthur Smith blew the whistle. Hart didn't get QB Logan Woodside the ball back in time to spike it, thus ending the effort within FG range. … The ball hit the ground a few times in this practice, with both dropped passes and fumbles in a practice where the defense was fairly physical. … P Bradley Pinion punted live in a special teams drill, working to pin opponents near the goal line. Veteran special teams player WR KhaDarel Hodge, who has quietly had a nice camp, dove into the end zone to keep the ball in play. DB Breon Borders completed a similar effort as well. … Overall, WR Drake London had a nice day making catches in traffic. … I'm not tracking specific snaps, but it seemed like OLB Arnold Ebiketie got more work with the first unit than recent sessions. You're starting to feel his presence out there.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.

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