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'Let's go play fast together': Inside the process of how Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen found great sync at inside linebacker

Veteran free-agent signing and 2022 second-round draft pick are expected to anchor new-look Falcons defense

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen spend tons of time together over the course of a work day. That's a job requirement for these three-down inside linebackers, a new pairing expected to anchor this Falcons defense.

Why? They have to be in near-perfect sync, with a great understanding of what the other person will do and how he'll react to a certain situation. Finding that requires never-ending dialogue both on the field and in the meeting room.

"You watch film together and study your playbook and build a rapport," Andersen said. "That's what we do all day. We go out here and practice and then go back inside and break it all down, learn from it and try to improve on it."

This process started back in OTAs, with an understanding that it couldn't be rushed. Elliss and Andersen focused solely on learning the scheme and its rule right away. Then they spent the spring and early summer studying and studying and getting the scheme down cold. During camp Elliss and Andersen homed in on how they would play situations and how they would communicate in the moment.

That doesn't mean every rep plays out perfectly.

"But those reps where maybe we got one right, then you know that's how it's going to play out. We have that logged," Elliss said after Saturday's practice. "We know that's how it's going to be. Cool. And then you get one where maybe you messed up. Alright then, why this didn't work? Then you adjust and work until the next one's clean. And, now that the days have gone on, we're starting to see the fruits of our labor.

"We're able to trust each other. We have our rules. We have our formulas down. We know how the other guy is going to play. Now let's go play fast together."

Elliss has worked with some excellent linebackers in the past. The best might be DeMario Davis in New Orleans, his partner after becoming an every-down player in 2022. Davis wanted to know exactly how Elliss was going to respond to every situation so he didn't have to wait for Elliss to do it. That allowed Davis to just react without hesitation.

Elliss wants the same information from Andersen and has gotten it.

"Troy, obviously, is so fast and he's so explosive, and he's strong -- he's got all the traits to be one of the best," Elliss said. Getting to play with him, getting to work our way through this process has been awesome. It has been exciting. I'm really excited for him this year, to see everything that he's going to do and accomplish.

"You know, we're trying to the best linebacker duo in the league this year. We want to be the best linebacker room in the league and to go out and make big plays."

Andersen has learned to take practice mistakes in stride. It's also helpful that the pairing was expected, so he and Elliss have worked most every rep together this summer. Logging all that time is invaluable to a drawn-out process that won't ever truly end. Refinement will always be required, especially when game planning gets involved during the regular season.

"We're just trying to constantly improve," Andersen said, "focus on the little details and get on the same page with the front end and back end of the defense."

Elliss called interior linebackers "the glue" of a defense. He's right. He needs to tie the front and back end together, to make the right checks and calls to insure everyone around him is in the best possible position to make a play.

"Communication with those guys is key for us," defensive lineman David Onyemata said. "They're really good at communicating what they see. That's important for us up front and for the defense as a whole."

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