Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.
ATLANTA – Now that I’ve explained how what happens at running back could have an effect on other position groups, let’s talk some defense.
When Falcons coach Dan Quinn made massive changes with his coaching staff following the 2018 season, it was then he also announced that he was taking over the defense and play-calling duties. Quinn made it very clear on what needed to change.
“Let’s make sure we get nastier,” Quinn said on Falcons Audible podcast. “It might be big and nasty. It might be fast and nasty. Let’s make sure there’s no doubt.”
Different looks: While most teams don't want to show too much scheme-wise in the preseason and keep things relatively vanilla, some of the changes Quinn has made on defense have been easy to spot – and hear. Players have frequently described the defense as being “more aggressive” and said there’s been more attention to “details.” The Falcons are using different alignments on the field – sometimes lining up with two or three defensive ends up front (sometimes one or both in a two-point stance).
Adapt, play to strengths: NFL offenses are constantly changing, and good defensive coordinators always adapt. They also play to the strengths of their personnel. The Falcons have brought back Adrian Clayborn and Ra’Shede Hageman and also added players like Allen Bailey, Tyeler Davison and John Cominsky. For what it's worth, all of those players are capable of playing the 5-technique (defensive end) in a 3-4 alignment, too.
Strongside linebacker: Quinn values versatility and likes to throw different looks at offenses. He also wants to get the best out of defensive ends Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. Don't be surprised if you see either players lined up over the tight end at times, much like a strongside linebacker. “There will be some packages where can be a linebacker,” Quinn said. “The value in that (presents the question of) is he a rusher or is he a dropper?”
Based on recent history, I think the Falcons will keep at least eight and as many as 10 defensive linemen initially. In other words, I'd be stunned if one of the players above did not make the initial 2019 roster.
On the bubble
I think only one or two of the 10 players listed above will be on the initial 53-man roster (unless, of course, I'm wrong with my locks). Deadrin Senat and Justin Zimmer were on the initial 2018 roster. Ra'Shede Hageman and Chris Odom were brought back during the offseason. Durrant Miles, an undrafted free agent out of Boise State, has been a very pleasant surprise through the first two preseason games. So has Austin Larkin.
- 2019 roster forecast: 5 defensive ends, 5 defensive tackles
If Quinn is going to turn around this defense, it'll start up front with the pass rush. I think he's going to be aggressive, throw lots of different looks at offenses and that means having the personnel to do so. That's why I can see him keeping these 10 players:
- DE Allen Bailey
- DE Vic Beasley
- DE Adrian Clayborn
- DE John Cominsky
- DE Takk McKinley
- DT Jack Crawford
- DT Tyeler Davison
- DT Deadrin Senat
- DT Grady Jarrett
- DT Justin Zimmer
Suspended (first two games): Ra'Shede Hageman won't count against the 53-man roster during his suspension, should he make the team.
Injured reserve: Michael Bennett
Projected practice squad
There's always a chance that the Falcons could sign a player who is not currently on their roster, but if they stick with their own players, this is my projected 10-player practice squad:
- RB Tony Brooks-James
- WR Christian Blake
- DE Tre' Crawford
- DE Austin Larkin
- DE Durrant Miles
- TE Jaeden Graham
- OT Jaelin Robinson
- S Chris Cooper
- QB Danny Etling
- LB Del’Shawn Phillips
What do you think?
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Falcons Audible podcast
Matt Tabeek and Will McFadden weigh in with their final thoughts before roster cuts.