There will be a number of new faces on the edges of the defensive line this year and some faces that aren't entirely new, but Falcons fans can expect to see a lot more of in 2013.
The headliner at the remade position group is free-agent signee Osi Umenyiora, the two-time Super Bowl champ from New York. Umenyiora is expected to step in and replace the production of the departed John Abraham and the rest of the production will come from defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's unique scheme and a host of young players including second-year end Jonathan Massaquoi and rookie draft picks Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga.
While the Falcons defensive end unit got younger, according to defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, they're also quite athletic. His group features tall guys, fast guys, and guys that affect the quarterback in a number of ways and that's their primary focus this season. Hamilton said last year's success as a team doesn't preclude them from not making changes and they believe the benefits of an improved pass rush from the defensive ends can be significant to the overall improvement of the defense.
"We do want to put more pressure on the quarterback and make the quarterback more fidgety and affect the quarterback more," Hamilton said Wednesday. "You can do that by different rushes, by sacking him and different disguises in our scheme. We have a few new things that are in there. As a defensive line, we always think we're the main reason the quarterback is in a frenzy. That's the kind of attitude that we take. We want to be the ones that affect the quarterback."
Umenyiora's veteran leadership has already influenced many of the younger players on the edges and his consistent play over the course of his career is why he is in Atlanta, but this year the Falcons will turn to guys like Massaquoi for an increase in production along with an increase in playing time. Limited to mostly reps on special teams last year, Massaquoi knows an opportunity is there for him and he begins OTAs with the hopes of earning more and more playing time in 2013.
"Being on special teams last year and later on having playing time at defensive end, that showed the coaches that I can be trusted," Massaquoi said. "The number one thing in this league is 'Can I trust you to go out there and do your job?' Hopefully, they have a little bit more trust in me than they did last year and I'm able to come in here and get some reps. There's no more thinking, it's just going out there and playing."
Hamilton said third-year end Cliff Matthews has turned into a versatile player with the ability to play inside and out and he and Massaquoi give the Falcons two young players that fit Nolan's scheme. The addition of Goodman and Maponga give the Falcons even more depth to accomplish what Nolan wants: a deep and fast defense that can come at you in waves.
Massaquoi in particular is an intriguing player for 2013 because of the pass rush ability he showed while in college at Troy. After a full season of learning the ropes, Massaquoi has the luxury of being comfortable in his NFL skin.
"He's much more comfortable in the system his second year in," Hamilton said. "You can see him working harder in the weight room, at practice and he's working smarter so he knows a little bit more about what he's doing and what we're trying to accomplish. I think he's doing well."
Kroy Biermann is the one wildcard at the defensive end position in that he can move all over the field and slide in and out of different positions. He can be disguised as a linebacker or a defensive and his ability to do a lot of different things within the defense makes him a dangerous player for the Falcons.
"Biermann has really taken his role as a versatile player to heart and does a really good job at it," Hamilton said. "His role uses a lot of different disguises. The offense doesn't really know where he is or what he's going to be doing. He's really picking up this scheme well and he's doing a good job with it."