In the trenches, space is a limited commodity. Inside the one-on-one battles that take place on every snap between the offensive and defensive lines is a hand fight that that occupies about one second of the exchange between the two linemen. Blink and you'll miss it.
All it takes is a quick move from either player and the battle is won. On the defensive side, the winner gets pressure or causes disruption of some type to the quarterback. If the O-lineman wins, his QB is protected.
The Falcons are opting for a youth movement at defensive end this year; they brought in Osi Umenyiora in the offseason and expect the other young players to step in and rejuvenate the Falcons' pass rush. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are returning players and the rookies Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga were added in this year's draft.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith said last week that he anticipates a young guy stepping up this season in addition to what they'll get from Kroy Biermann in a hybrid role at linebacker/defensive end. On the inside, they could experience a boost from Corey Peters, who is healthy this year.
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"I'm very confident that Jonathan Massaquoi, who played for us last year, will be in a very competitive mode to compete with these two guys that we drafted," Smith said. "We also have to get some pass rush out of Kroy Biermann and we have to get some pass rush out of Corey Peters, who was on PUP for the first half of the season and that hurt our numbers."
What sets Goodman apart from his competition are his hands and arms. Sure, his hands are extremely large, and his arms were the longest at the NFL Combine, but it's how he uses the two of them that could make Goodman a special player for the Falcons' front four. His hands have been described as "violent" and the usage of such weapons is something he's continued to hone during the offseason.
"It's just about keeping your hands active," Goodman said. "Any way you can get your hands on an offensive lineman first to where they can't reach you is violent hands. Just keeping them active so they can't place their hands and lock on because if they lock on, it's done."
Although he only knocked down three passes in college, those arms can be highly useful in the NFL, even if he can't get to the quarterback. Swatting away passes at the line of scrimmage is developed skill and players like Houston's J.J. Watt have shown how disruptive a skill that can be in the trenches. Goodman said it only takes a split second to realize if you might get to the pocket or if hands need to go up. Timing is everything.
"You always try to get your first move and obviously if that's dead or the offensive lineman jumps, you just have to drive him back into the pocket and collapse the pocket. Whenever the quarterback is about to load up, you just get your hands up."
It didn't take Goodman long to realize there's a big difference between offseason training football and training camp football. The veterans ahead of him have been helping him remember to settle down each day, know your job and do it. Don't try to impress coaches, he said, just do the right thing and they'll see what you need them to see.
"(Umenyiora) and (Jonathan) Babineaux, Corey (Peters), PJ (Peria Jerry), the advice they give you throughout practice is helpful," Goodman said. "If they watch you on film and they see what you need to work on, they help you out with it. It's been a great learning process and the vets are really taking a role to help out the rookies."