FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes a look inside Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell's relationship as well as an injury to a Saints defender.
The Falcons' "Brotherhood" mantra is well known at this point, and third-year linebacker Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell embody the spirit of that as well as any players.
Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Jones and Campbell, learning that their friendship actually began before they reached Atlanta. The two linebackers were put on the same medical exam schedule at the NFL Combine and spent time getting to know one another while they waited.
On the field, Jones and Campbell are key parts of an ascendant, young defense that finished as a top-10 unit last season. Jones, who made the Pro Bowl in his second season, led the Falcons with 138 tackles and he also contributed 10 pass defenses and three interceptions. Campbell is one of the most versatile defenders the Falcons have, and he is expected to have a greater pass-rushing rule this coming season.
As good as they are on the field, however, their bond is often strengthened off of it.
"We might spend more time together off the field than we do on," Campbell told Hummer. "We'll be sitting around talking about life stuff all the time. When we ain't around football we try to keep football separate. It's our job but we also want to try to have fun."
To see the rest of Hummer's interview with Jones and Campbell, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Saints DE Alex Okafor suffers bone bruise, ankle sprain in practice
Citing an unnamed source, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported that New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Okafor suffered a bone bruise and a sprained ankle during the team's practice on Wednesday. The veteran is coming off of a torn achilles, and it is unclear how long these new injuries will sideline Okafor.
Okafor had 4.5 sacks in 10 games for the Saints last season prior to his injury. Starting across from star defensive end Cam Jordan, Okafor is a key returning piece for the Saints' defense in 2018.
NFL.com: Rankings the NFL's best defenses for 2018
People who watched the Falcons play at least a few games in 2017 saw a young defense that was quietly improving. Now, after finishing as a top-10 unit last year, the Falcons' defense looks poised to continue its upward trajectory. NFL.com columnist Adam Schein released his ranking of the top defenses heading into 2018, and he's got the Falcons on his list at No. 8.
"The defensive backfield is strong as a whole, with Keanu Neal establishing himself as one of the league's most imposing hammers," Schein writes. "Up front, Grady Jarrett is a menace on the defensive interior. Defensive end Vic Beasley is capable of being special, but the Falcons have to put him in positions to succeed as an edge rusher. And I expect Takk McKinley to have a vastly improved second season.
"In the middle of it all is Deion Jones, a stud middle linebacker who excels against the pass and run. Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the No. 4 linebacker in football last season."
To see who else Schein has among his top defenses for 2018, click here.
AJC: Kazee looking to follow up bone-rattling performance vs. Chiefs
After leading the Falcons with 11 tackles in their preseason loss to the Jets, safety Damontae Kazee told reporters this week that he still wants to improve his tackling. The second-year defender was called for a penalty after leading with his helmet on a tackle. Another big performance from Kazee would help him further stand out in a crowded secondary, but he's already drawing praise from the coaching staff.
"You look at the guy who had a calendar year," defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Kazee, I thought, came out and he played with intensity. I thought, from that standpoint, he played well."
To read the rest of Ledbetter's story on Kazee heading into the second preseason game, click here.
CBS Sports: Preseason All-NFC South Team
Taking a page from the college playbook, CBS Sports is building its preseason All-Division team with the NFL season quickly approaching. On Wednesday, CBS Sports' Jared Dubin released his choices for the NFC South, admitting that it "was an incredibly difficult division to narrow down."
The Falcons led all NFC South teams with 12 players on the list, including five on offense and six on defense. The Falcons had a player on every level of the defense, at every offensive position except tight end and quarterback and Matt Bryant was chosen as the kicker.
To see who Dubin selected to make the team, click here.