John Cominsky asked himself two questions repeatedly during the long offseason NFL players endured this year: Am I going to look better on the field when I'm back? And is all of the extra work I'm doing going to pay off?
Cominsky, 24, found the answers he was looking for in the month of August and he, his coaches and teammates are pleased what they've seen thus far. After an injury-riddled rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons that also included a position change, the fourth-round pick out of the University of Charleston is light years ahead of where he was at this time a year ago.
"He has a lot more of that knowledge this year and he just looks like a different ball player to us," coach Dan Quinn said.
When the Falcons selected Cominsky out of the Division II school in West Virginia, they had a vision for how they wanted to feature him in Atlanta's defense. At 6-foot-5 and 286 pounds, Cominsky has the size and speed to play both inside and outside along the defensive line. At Charleston, Cominsky played defensive end where his 67 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles earned him Mountain East Defensive Player of the Year honors.
When he got to Atlanta, Quinn asked Cominsky to add playing defensive tackle to his repertoire. When the Falcons are in their base defense, Cominsky plays on the edge. When Atlanta is in the nickel package, he slides inside to play defensive tackle.
Learning a new position while getting acclimated to the speed of play in the NFL, Cominsky admitted he felt "scatterbrained" at times. The lack of experience and confidence he had last season slowed him down. He also suffered a significant ankle injury at the end of October and missed five games. After a strong push to make it back for the final two games, Cominsky was able to return.
"I overthought things last year," Cominsky said. "So, I played with a millisecond of hesitation."
That hasn't been the case this year for Cominsky as he continues to get more reps with the second-team defense during practice. Now that the game has slowed down for him, he's improved in a number of areas, including his pass rush skill set. Quinn said Cominsky has become a more disruptive player.
Cominsky said he thought his best game of his rookie year came in the Falcons' season-finale, which ended in a 28-22 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the 28 snaps he saw, he recorded four tackles. In 10 games, Cominsky totaled 11 tackles, two quarterback hits and a half-sack.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has been impressed with the improvement he's seen from Cominsky this preseason.
"John's had a great camp, balling out at every position," Jarrett said. "He's a guy who if coach tells him to go do something, he's going to do it 100 percent and it's going to get it done right. He's also going to make some big plays. I've been really impressed with John; you can tell he's a lot more comfortable in his second year. He's extremely motivated. John is someone I have 100 percent confidence in going into this year."
With more confidence, Cominsky has become more vocal in meetings – something he wasn't comfortable doing in his rookie season. Oftentimes, he waited until meetings were complete before asking questions behind closed doors.
He's also put on more weight and is playing "even faster." Cominsky said the plan is for him to stay closer to 290 pounds throughout the season. In order to play better inside against the guards and tackles in the NFL, Cominsky knew he needed to add some weight but didn't want to lose the speed that intrigued Quinn the most.
The added weight, speed and knowledge Cominsky has right now has him in the best position to not only succeed in his second year, but to become a player the Falcons' defense relies on throughout the season. In order to get back to playing in the postseason, Atlanta needs to strengthen its pass rush and "dominate" on run downs, as defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. The Falcons finished 29th in sacks with 28 and 15th against the run, allowing 110.9 yards per game in 2019.
And it appears Cominsky is on the right track to be exactly the type of player who can do both of those things at a high level.
"I'm glad they had that vision [in how they wanted to feature me] because I was kind of unsure of myself," Cominsky said. "I'm glad that they saw that in me early because I had a whole year to experience playing inside. I do like it because now I'm flourishing on the inside and outside. They didn't limit me to just the inside or the outside. I have versatility as a player and I can fill in whenever and wherever."
There was plenty of fun competition to end the week of field preparation at Falcons HQ this week. Take a look at the best images of the Falcons at Work here.