There's a lot of changes going around the Falcons this offseason, most notably is the addition of new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Mike Nolan brings a defensive scheme to Atlanta that is widely recognized as successful around the league, with a trademark aggression that puts an emphasis on taking away the ball by any means necessary.
More of the more quiet changes, or adjustments, is Ray Edwards' comfort level with the Falcons.
Edwards joined the Falcons within a few days of training camp starting after the lockout wiped all offseason activities off the schedule. A knee surgery during the offseason and rehab on his own set him back before he was even able to begin with his new team.
This year his smile is like a million bucks and he's enjoying the experience of practicing with his teammates in a way he didn't last year, while they learn Nolan's scheme.
"Definitely coming here and getting more camaraderie with the guys and getting more familiar with the guys, spending time with them off the field as well as on the field," Edwards said on Wednesday. "Just having fun and getting to know each other and personalities. Just having a great time out here."
Edwards recorded 3.5 sacks last season after two straight seasons in Minnesota of eight or more sacks. While he was strong in run defense, his pass pressure and sack totals weren't quite what he was expecting. The defensive end said coming straight out of a surgery and into the full season was difficult on his body. As the season progressed he began to have trouble with his other leg as well. This season he says the offseason has allowed him to get fully healthy and he's ready to play.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith anticipates an improvement from his prize defensive end signing from a year ago.
"Ray is much healthier than he was at the end of the season, like all of our guys," he said. "We anticipate that he's going to improve. Working with Mike and the new scheme, there's a learning curve that all the guys are going through, but I think he'll do a good job for us."
As he and his teammates are learning Nolan's system, one key trait jumps out, especially to the defensive linemen.
"It's a lot better," Edwards said of his role versus the role he played in 2011. "It's more of us up front attacking, attacking, attacking and not jumping back in coverage. That's the more plus thing of the defense and letting the back end play the way they play."
With the addition of Asante Samuel at cornerback, joining Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, the Falcons secondary should be able to maintain their coverage perhaps better than they did last season. If that's the case, Edwards sees a rotation of players in the front four that can aggressively go after the quarterback and force mistakes.
It's the kind of play he's used to from his five seasons as a Viking. He thinks the best way to get the most of out his abilities is to let him go chase the quarterback.
"I came from a defense in Minnesota where it didn't matter, we just rushed the front four and let the back end do their job," he said. "That's what I think this defense is more geared to."