Falcons alumnus Patrick Kerney, who tallied 58 sacks in eight seasons with Atlanta, has a story that, in many ways, is similar to Vic Beasley's. Both were first round picks. Both dealt with challenging adjustments during the early portion of their NFL careers. And both worked through adversity to become reliable pass rushers.
In a follow-up to an interview from February, Kerney spoke with AtlantaFalcons.com about Beasley's progress this year.
Andrew Hirsh: Thanks for taking the time to chat. Now that we're more than halfway through the season, how would you evaluate Beasley's performance so far in 2016?
Patrick Kerney: He's been operating much more intelligently. That's the best way to sum it up. I've yet to see him line up seven yards outside the tackle. He's obviously done the math on the shortest distance between two points. That makes me wonder — he's got a pretty wise teammate now in Dwight Freeney, who is as fast as any pass rusher who has ever played. He probably made (Beasley) aware that if you start too far away, no matter how fast you are, you're just not going to get there.
Also, he's reconciled with the fact that he has to address the hands of the blocker. A lot of young guys who come to the NFL who run well are under the impression that they are so fast that they can sprint past the offensive tackle, sprint left or sprint right and be after the quarterback. The physics and geometry dictate that it's just not really possible to sprint past the offensive tackle to take the edge. It just doesn't work. So Vic has realized that something has to be done with the hands.
AH: When you first entered the NFL, you had a star pass rusher as a teammate in Chuck Smith. Based on your experience, how much does it help someone like Beasley to have a mentor like Freeney?
PK: To reference Chuck, he was a guy early in my career who believed in — and still professionally believes in — the art of pass rushing, as well as the science of it. Dwight handles himself in that same level of professionalism in terms of really honing his craft. It's why he's one of the best pass rushers to ever play. Having that influence around someone like Vic at the player level where there is no barrier in terms of management vs. labor or anything like that, when it's within the fraternity, it makes a big difference. It reduces any doubt in terms of the intentions of the advice. Dwight is obviously an incredibly proven guy. Dan Quinn and I are friends, and this spring he said, "I'd love to have you down some time to talk to our D-line about the pass rush," but when they signed Dwight, I was like, "You don't need me to talk to your guys anymore."
AH: Quinn recently told the media that Vic has done a good job preparing for and adjusting to each offensive tackle he's set to face in a given week. How critical is it for pass rushers to study opponents?
PK: You can't overstate the importance of understanding the opponent. Not only from an individual standpoint, but also from an offensive coordinator's standpoint and how they run their protections. You can pick up sacks just based on tendencies and how teams run protection — where the center's going in relation to the back, and what that then means for how the tackle is going to be set. It's sort of a domino effect in terms of, "The center is doing this, that means the guard is going to set this way, which means the tackle is going to move this way." A lot of critics were saying Vic needs to put on 10 pounds, 15 pounds. I said no. It's neck up stuff for him. And I see evidence that that's (developed), and the numbers reflect it.
AH: When we last spoke, you mentioned the value of having a "power rusher" inside. It seems like Grady Jarrett has been that guy in 2016.
PK: I've definitely seen Grady supply that pressure up the middle so the quarterback just can't step up. The quarterback can either get smacked in the chest by Grady or stand back and risk getting struck from behind by Vic. The sack-strip Vic had (in Philadelphia) — think about that, the way he reached from the tackle and stripped the ball. With less interior pressure, that's literally three inches from not being a sack. That's not even one shuffle step, that's just (being able to) lean forward with no sense of interior pressure. No sack, no fumble, no change of possession. So that's how we all work together in a pass rush. It's showing through for Vic.
AH: What do you think he needs to do at this point to improve?
PK: Probably the biggest key to improvement is a philosophical one. Just understanding that no matter what type of numbers he ends up with this season or what accolades he receives, the effort is never over. The effort for improvement is never over. No one's ever played a perfect game, no one's ever rushed the passer perfectly. Continuing to develop an understanding of how to improve himself — that's a never-ending journey.