The Falcons were in the middle of the pack of defenses in 2016. Overall, they ranked 16th in the NFL, a drastic improvement from worst in the league just a season before. Dan Quinn and Richard Smith clearly made an impact from day one despite lacking a true pass rush. The unit was mediocre in 2015, but mediocre was a huge improvement.
Quinn is not done trying to find the best recipe for that side of the ball. The past two weeks, multiple reports have come out regarding positional shifts for multiple defenders.
Last season’s first round pick Vic Beasley will make the shift from defensive end to strongside linebacker. Quinn plans to use him as a hybrid player, meaning he will see snaps at both positions throughout the year, and they will keep a close eye on him during OTAs. Quinn clearly sees versatility in Beasley and plans to use him in a similar mold as Bruce Irvin, who played under Quinn’s tutelage in Seattle. This makes Beasley the “SAM” linebacker in Quinn and Smith’s scheme.
So what happens to incumbent SAM linebacker starter Brooks Reed? Apparently he looks healthy and more versatile this year in training camp, and the team is having him play some snaps at the “LEO” linebacker position. This is somewhat of a surprising move as Reed has more of a reputation for being a run stopper than a pass rusher, but it looks like Quinn will be doing a lot of mix-and-matching between Reed and Beasley, especially with O’ Brien Schofield not being re-signed.
In a Kelsey Conway article for the AJC, she quotes Quinn saying the following: “We are trying to find that versatility,” Quinn said. “Can you do more than one role? Can you be a guard who can play center? Can you be a corner who can play nickel? Can you be a LEO who can play SAM? If you can have that versatility for when we do ask you to make some switches or moves, it’s not such a big deal. Now is the time to find that out about players.”
Ra’Shede Hageman, another high draft pick from the team in recent seasons, is manning a new position as well. He is making the transition from defensive tackle to defensive end. The incumbent Tyson Jackson will get a look at defensive tackle.
Clearly Quinn is looking for the right equation to extract the most from his personnel in the upcoming season. It will be interesting to see how his tinkering will affect the unit as a whole during the upcoming season.