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Falcons have 'an awesome problem' when it comes to ILB depth

The Falcons have depth at the inside linebacker position entering 2024, as Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen and Nate Landman all return as veterans in Atlanta.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons have a problem in their inside linebacker room.

"It's an awesome problem," head coach Raheem Morris said.

There's a lot of depth.

While there's no such thing as too much in that department, it will have to be navigated come game time because not everyone can take the field.

Six players are currently rostered, with three who have starting experience. Last season's starters, Kaden Elliss and Nate Landman, are back. So is a fully healthy Troy Andersen, who was supposed to be a 2023 starter but landed on injured reserve after Week 2.

"It's so fun to watch them communicate, to watch them do different things," Morris said. "They've got different styles of play. They got speed differences. They've got all kinds of things. ...

"It's going to be exciting getting them on the field. Maybe all at the same time. Because they have that type of ability that warrants more playtime. And the only way you get more playtime? You get creative. You get innovative."

The Falcons will have to be, considering their new defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake, has said they'll run a base 3-4 defense, which would normally feature two inside linebackers.

There are three different pairings available among Elliss, Landman and Andersen alone. The Falcons also have their fifth-round draft pick, JD Bertrand, along with Milo Eifler and Donavan Mutin from last season's practice squad. Those then add another 12 different combinations for 15 total.

Now, not everyone is likely to make the 53-man roster, but the point stands: options.

"Lord willing, we all stay healthy, that's going to be something that is a good problem to have if you're us and if you're Jimmy and company," Elliss said. "That's something that's unfolding right now."

Well, say the Falcons do get the trifecta figured out, that'd be a lot of talent stacked in between the secondary and defensive line.

Elliss is the newest and eldest, entering his sixth season in the NFL but second with the Falcons. Last year, he made 122 tackles, 11 of which were for a loss and four were sacks. He also broke up three passes.

"I love playing with Troy, I love playing with Nate," Elliss said. "Because they'll chip in my ear pre-snap, just a reminder of our jobs, a reminder of an adjustment, a reminder of, 'Hey, this is coming next, and if they motion like this, this is what we got to do.' Just little reminders that keep you on your toes, keep you ready to play and allow you to play as fast as you possibly can."

Landman and Andersen are both hitting their third season in league and Atlanta, and their histories are essentially flipped.

Andersen was a second-round draft pick for the Falcons in 2022 who appeared in all 17 games, starting five, as a rookie. He shared time on defense and special teams but still made 69 tackles, three for a loss, along with a pass breakup and a forced fumble. In 2023, though, Andersen's shoulder/pectoral injury stopped his stat line at two games.

Landman was an undrafted free agent in 2022 who appeared in seven games as a newcomer, mainly on special teams. He stepped up when Andersen got injured in 2023, though, and started 14 of his 16 game appearances. Landman made 110 tackles, with seven for a loss and two for a sack. He also had an interception, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

"I think it's great," Andersen said. "Those guys are awesome. I'm lucky to be in the room with them, picking their brain, learning from each other (and) competing with each other.

"I'm excited for training camp and the season to come along because I think our inside linebacker group is going to be pretty special."

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