The Falcons first-year regime brings in wildly different systems than the previous regime deployed, which normally requires different personnel. Arthur Smith will implement a wide zone rushing attack that uses play-action once the run is established. Dean Pees brings a base 3-4 defense but one that runs multiple fronts and coverages on the back end — a true multiple defense, able to switch between odd and even fronts. Both systems require specific players for them to succeed.
Beginning on the offensive side of the ball, the linemen in this type of system are more agile and athletic than bulldozers, which is better for a man or angle blocking scheme. Instead of a specific man to block, the offensive line moves in a synchronized way and only block defenders in their zone. Jake Matthews obviously has experience in this offense after playing for two years under Kyle Shanahan, who implements a similar rushing attack. Matt Hennessey projected best as a zone-blocking center coming out of Temple, but he has had limited experience.
Drew Dalman will be competing for the starting center position with Hennessey and comes from an NFL system at Stanford, and Jalen Mayfield also played in a pro-style offense — as rookies, any experience is good. Moving onto the skill positions, Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson are familiar with this type of rushing attack as the Panthers and Bears use a heavy zone scheme. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, who could play in any system, played together in the 2015-16 offenses that are fundamentally similar to Smith’s. AJ McCarron is also familiar with the offense, which is always a good thing for a backup.
Moving to the other side of the ball, Pees’ defense is multiple, so there might be players who are experienced in certain schemes but not all. Beginning with Barkevious Mingo, who played most recently in Chicago with Ted Monachino, the former LSU Tiger might not be the high-sack number pass rusher many expected him to be coming out of college, but he has invaluable experience in this type of defense that is so multiple. Steven Means also played for the current coaching staff before Atlanta when he was with the Baltimore Ravens.
Deion Jones was a part of a similar 3-4 attacking style defense at LSU under Dave Aranda, who is now the head coach at Baylor. Duron Harmon played in Bill Belichick’s 3-3-5 defense in New England — after Pees left — which had the same principles at safety. Richie Grant has experience in a defense that moved him all over the field in college, which is exactly what Pees will do with the second-round pick.
As you can see, there aren’t many players on the current roster with direct experience from these systems, but all that means is there is going to be much competition in training camp. It’ll be the coaches’ responsibility to develop these players both mentally and physically. Just because a player has prior experience in the scheme doesn’t mean he’ll automatically play — they just have a slight head start, given they understand the verbiage.
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