By drafting Vic Beasley Jr. and Grady Jarrett, the Falcons took two important steps toward improving a defensive front that has struggled in recent years. The pair of Clemson graduates arrived in Atlanta with loads of potential and, if all goes to plan, will enjoy success here for a long, long time.
But they alone cannot turn the pass-rush into a genuine strength. Rare exceptions notwithstanding, NFL teams need a deep rotation of linemen — like the rotation Dan Quinn had in Seattle — to consistently pressure the quarterback.
This is where Adrian Clayborn comes into play. While the contract he signed in March didn't receive much fanfare, he has the skillset needed to be a crucial member of the Falcons in 2015.
"It's a new coaching staff and you have to impress them," he said during mandatory minicamp. "Everybody's starting fresh."
Clayborn's recent departure from Tampa Bay had less to do with talent than injury troubles. The former 11th overall pick was largely effective for the Bucs when on the field — especially during his rookie campaign. That season, he led the Bucs in sacks with 7.5, and his 13.6 pass rush rating on Pro Football Focus was nearly twice as high as any of his teammates'. In total he's earned 121 tackles (72 solo) and 13.5 sacks in 36 professional appearances.
However, Clayborn missed all but one game in 2014 and sat out most of 2012. So while there are plenty of reasons to believe he can be a successful edge-rusher, he needs to prove he can stay healthy.
"I just want to come in and help the Falcons get back to playing good defense," Clayborn said. "I've just been out for a year, and last year was supposed to be my best year of my career, so I'm just looking to get back on track, and I'm very hungry to get back at it."
As far as coaching goes, Clayborn knew what he was getting himself into when he signed with Atlanta. Raheem Morris, now an assistant working with the Falcons' secondary, was Tampa's head coach when he was drafted in 2011; Bryan Cox, who's working directly with Clayborn on the D-line, was on that staff, too.
Additionally, the University of Iowa product has been spending one-on-one time with former Falcon DE Chuck Smith, now a private instructor.
"Clayborn has come in and has added a dimension with a little bit of speed inside," Cox said. "He can play multiple positions."
In regards to scheme adjustments, Clayborn is feeling right at home in the 4-3. It's what he's played his entire life and, while he's still learning the new playbook, he's already familiar with many aspects of Quinn's system.
"I think when you play hard and just get after the quarterback you help the offense, and we'll be fine," he said. "Because we are good players. It just takes the right gel and takes the right coaching. We'll be great."