During the winter, head coach Dan Quinn spoke at-length about the Falcons' comprehensive development program, "Plan D," and why it's important to the organization's long-term success.
The most recognizable face in Plan D was Tyler Starr, a 2014 seventh-round draft pick who gained notoriety on HBO's Hard Knocks series. After practices ended, Starr would train with Quinn and his assistants to fine-tune important areas of his game.
Quinn wanted to help the young linebacker improve his pass rush, so they focused on hand technique, footwork, and getting vertical as fast as possible, because, as Quinn explained, you only have about 2.4 seconds to bring down an opposing quarterback.
That individual work has helped Starr immensely. His confidence is high; on Dec. 20, he made his first regular season appearance, earning one tackle. And as someone who knew the odds were stacked against him from the day he was drafted at No. 255 overall, he understands how fortunate he is to receive this kind of attention.
"I've never seen a coach be able to be so hands-on with the practice squad like that," Starr said. "I think not only does he connect with the players, he gives them more incentive to say, 'Hey, the head coach is buying in, trying to help me succeed.' It gives you that extra burst of energy. Quinn believes in me. I'm not just here to be used as a practice dummy. He expects me to participate on the team.
"The D-line and pass-rushing is Quinn's thing. He's the guru, so I try to take in every tip I could, try to take it one day at a time. I'm still using the same things he taught me last year."
Having spent so much time on the practice squad, Starr knows how difficult it is to maintain a job in this league. Therefore, in addition to working on his defense, he's making sure coaches know he's willing to contribute in any way possible.
"I'm just really trying to find my role on the team," Starr said. "I think I can be a key special teams player. Hopefully I'll earn the trust of the defense and my teammates and coaches, and I can come in and make some plays when they need me. But really, I want to focus on getting in with (special teams coach) Keith Armstrong and try to make an impact there."