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'We're just gonna kick ass': Jay Rodgers setting standard for defensive line early into new coaching role

The Falcons named Jay Rodgers the defensive line coach on Jan. 31, and Rodgers is already making his expectations clear for 2024.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — "We're just gonna kick ass."

Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Jay Rodgers didn't mince words Thursday when he addressed the media for the first time since arriving in Georgia. Rodgers was officially hired to head coach Raheem Morris' staff back on Jan. 31. That was more than two weeks ago, and yet, Rodgers and the rest of the Falcons' position coaches only recently landed in Atlanta as roles within the organization continue to be finalized.

Regardless, that bold statement was Rodgers' way of describing his goals for 2024 with the defensive line — and it's not going to change.

"I want these guys to get their hands on offensive lineman, push them back and waffle those guys," Rodgers said. "That's what I want. However they can get that done. …

"In anything that you do in a combat situation, the tough guys are the first line of defense. That's our mentality. We're gonna line up, and we're gonna kick your ass."

Rodgers comes to Atlanta from the Los Angeles Chargers, where he served as the defensive run-game coordinator/defensive line coach. He joins a Falcons defensive line room that will feature Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata and Ta'Quon Graham and he may see Albert Huggins, LaCale London and Kentavius Street. The first set of three are all under contract through at least this upcoming season. The latter trio were on one-year deals in 2023 and could be re-signed for 2024.

Then, a question mark still surrounds Calais Campbell, who was weighing retirement as last season concluded. He, too, was on a one-year deal. The Falcons haven't been in contact with Campbell — yet — according to both Rodgers and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.

There's also the option that a crop of new names join the room by way of the draft or free agency, especially with the Falcons moving toward a 3-4 look under Lake.

What is currently happening behind the scenes is the Falcons' evaluation process. Rodgers said all he has been doing lately is watching tape on the guys rostered. Once he thinks he has seen enough to where he's comfortable to call players, he will. But even then, it'll be to get to know them, not jump right into contract talks. Only after that, once a full picture is painted, will conversations begin to shift.

Something Rodgers prioritizes in a defensive lineman is versatility, specifically the ability to plug and play anywhere along the line in case of injury. He doesn't have a physical checklist, though, so predicting who he'd target for newcomers would be difficult.

"The thing about the NFL is you don't get 15 No. 1 draft picks and you don't get a billion dollars to spend on players. OK? So, you have to be able to take a player somewhere in between the first pick in the draft and the last pick in the draft and find a role for him," Rodgers said. "Same thing in free agency. You can't pay guys $20 million, every guy along the front $20 million. You have to be able to pick and choose who are the guys who can help you. That's the whole key, is finding those pieces of the puzzles.

"All D-lineman came in all shapes and sizes. We've had guys who have been 330 pounds; we've had guys who have been 285 pounds. Guys that are 6-6; guys that are 6 feet. It just depends on what you see on tape. If they're able to be physical at the point of attack and get after the passer and rush situations, they're going to have a place for you — somewhere. You utilize the body type the best you can."

The Falcons defense as a whole took a step forward last season in multiple statistical categories. Points allowed went from No. 23 in 2022 to No. 18 in 2023. Yards allowed jumped from No. 27 to 11. Third-down conversion, No. 31 to 3. Red-zone conversion, No. 14 to 4.

If action does begin up front like Rodgers claims, then the defensive line is to partially thank for that improvement. And there's clearly still room for even more.

"We want to be No. 1 in everything, all right?" Rodgers said. "It's never perfect. But we're striving to be as close as possible."

Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Jay Rodgers is interviewed by media during a press conference in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday, February 15, 2024. (Photo by Amanda Valle/Atlanta Falcons)

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