When the Falcons hired Head Coach Dan Quinn, it was obvious defense was going to be priority number one. Quinn spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the vaunted Seattle Seahawks’ defense. Perhaps, the number one reason the Seattle defense was so successful under Quinn was the pass rush. Sure, they have the legion of boom, but it is easy to cover guys when the defensive line is constantly putting pressure on the Quarterback. It was very rare to ever see a Quarterback go unscathed after a game versus Seattle. Last season, the Falcons ranked 30th in sacks with 22 over the whole season. The number is nothing short of embarrassing, and Quarterbacks consistently had all the time in the world to find receivers. Quinn and company made a lot of moves through free agency and the draft to improve the defensive line woes, but can the current guys and the new guys combine to provide the Falcons with the pass rush that they have desperately needed the last few seasons?
The Falcons did not go out and get a bunch of household names in free agency to help the defensive line. When Quinn was hired he said the Falcons defense would not be difficult, it would be straight up and hard-nosed football. It was clear he looked for those type of players in free agency. The first addition to the defensive line was made when Adrian Clayborn was signed to a one year deal. He currently looks like he might pan out to be a huge steal. In 36 games, he has 13 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. If he can stay healthy he will surely start for the Falcons and could be a beast on the defensive line. Prior coaches and current Falcons coaches have raved about his hard work and talent, and he really matches the hard-nosed mold that Quinn is trying to establish in Atlanta. Quinn signed another defensive end in O’Brian Schofield. Schofield played under Quinn in Seattle, but did not receive very much playing time with all of the talented players on that defensive line. However, Quinn bringing over a familiar face should mean something, and I expect Schofield to contribute at defensive end for the Falcons. He will probably not ever start, but quality depth on the line is something the Falcons have really lacked in previous seasons.
The biggest addition to the defensive line unit was acquired with the Falcons first-round draft pick. Vic Beasley was selected 8th overall by the Falcons out of Clemson University. Beasley has all the tools to be an absolute star in the NFL. At 6 feet 4 inches tall weighing 245 pounds, Beasley ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, had a 41 inch vertical jump, and did 35 reps on the bench press at the combine. He is an absolute freak of nature and also has the college resume to back it up. He set a school record for sacks at Clemson, including 25 sacks in his last two seasons before entering the NFL draft. He was constantly beating double teams and wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. In 2014, Beasley was named the ACC Player of the Year. I expect his game to translate well to the NFL, and I cannot imagine a better guy to learn from than Dan Quinn. Expect Beasley to have a huge impact in his rookie campaign and be the star of a defensive line that has been desperate for star power.
These guys will surely help the defensive line, but it is going to take a lot more if this defensive line wants to strike fear into opposing quarterbacks. Veterans like Jonathan Babineaux have to keep contributing. Youngsters like Rasheed Hageman have to take the next step and become reliable forces on the line. Veterans like Tyson Jackson and Paul Solai have to live up to the contracts that they signed with the Falcons last offseason.
The Falcons have a lot of room for improvement on the whole defense, but especially the defensive line. There is no truer statement in football than the war is won in the trenches. When the defensive line can stop the run game, the game is a lot easier for everyone else on the defense. When the guys on the line can get after the quarterback and provide pressure, it makes the game a lot easier for everyone. The defense revolves around this group of guys, and they failed miserably last year. However, with Quinn in control I expect everyone to improve, both the new and the old. The Falcons defensive line will be more than just adequate this upcoming season, they will be good.