FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The Falcons are working through a taxing stretch, with four joint practice sessions and two preseason games over the course of nine days.
Grady Jarrett couldn't be more excited about it. He loves the work, the competition and the opportunity it will brings to get better.
"We're pushing the envelope. We'll be pushing our bodies to that max, and I love it," Jarrett said after Monday's joint-practice with the New York Jets. "You have to embrace it and know it's going to pay off when the season starts. When you have that high intensity back-to-back-to-back, it forces you to push yourself physically and mentally. I'm excited about it, and I'm accepting the challenge. That's my job, to push my guys to bring it every single day."
Jarrett certainly brought it on Monday against the Jets, with two sacks and plenty of pressure in the joint practice session. While he has been as good as ever, his guys have been through a lot this summer, especially on the injury front. Vincent Taylor was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Marlon Davidson reportedly suffered a knee injury that required arthroscopic knee surgery – ESPN's Michael Rothstein was first with that news – and should force him to miss the preseason at least.
Those developments aren't great. The Falcons were counting on both players as part of a rotation with Jarrett as a feature player. They've also been developing some promising undrafted free agents, notably Derrick Tangelo and Timmy Horne, and imported Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton and Darrion Daniels as more experienced depth.
This period will be vital for the defensive line to come together and find a solid rotation.
"It's a good proving ground, especially with one less preseason game," Jarrett said. "These joint practices become that much more important, to see real competition in one-on-ones and team periods."
The top of the rotation, in the base package anyway, seems largely set with Jarrett, Ta'Quon Graham and Anthony Rush in the middle.
"I'm excited about Ta'Quon Graham. Playing next to him is going to be really good for me," Jarrett said. "Big Rush is going to do a good job for us. It's a group of young, hungry guys. I'm excited to see these boys ball out on Monday and see what we've got."
The Falcons will play the New York Jets on Monday night. Then they come home for two more joint practices and a game against the Jaguars.
There are three virtual locks in the defensive line group, with (likely) two more spots up for grabs. Dalton and Anderson are firmly in the mix there, but competition will decide it. There's opportunity for them here with Davidson out, to earn a role and regular snaps against steady competition until the preseason schedule ends.
"Dalton's coming on strong. Anderson, too," Jarrett said. "They're making their presence felt every day. You can see the respect they're gaining with our teammates by putting in good work on a daily basis. We have a good group, a better one than people think."
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