Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Starter: Paul Soliai
Reserves: Ra’Shede Hageman, Tyson Jackson, Joey Mbu
Nose tackle is an often overlooked position in Quinn’s defensive scheme. They are usually the largest man on the field, and Paul Soliai is exactly that. Known for being a stalwart in the run game, that is where his value truly lies. He is also expected to consume multiple blockers and allow ends and linebackers an easy path to the ball carrier.
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While he did have his struggles last year, that was largely due to the lack of a defensive identity and poor coaching. Also, there is no clear backup currently on the team.
Hageman will rotate in on passing downs, and Jackson will get some snaps there due to his size. Joey Mbu, an undrafted free agent out of Houston, and Ricky Havili-Heimuli will duke it out for one of the last roster spots, and it’s possible that one of them will wind up sticking on the practice squad.
Strongside Defensive End
Starter: Adrian Claybor
Reserves: Tyson Jackson, Kroy Biermann, Mallaciah Goodman
While we all expect the LEO spot to be manned by Vic Beasley, the strongside end spot could very well be one of the more competitive battles of training camp. Adrian Clayborn signed a one year deal during free agency and he looks to be the starter at this point.
He showed potential during his rookie year in 2011 as a pass rusher, recording 6.0 sacks and applying consistent pressure. He would miss the next year with a torn ACL, but would come back in 2013 to record 7.5 sacks.
Injury struck again for Clayborn in 2014. He tore his biceps in the first game and was placed on injured reserve. Throughout his career, he has played with nerve damage in his right shoulder from being pulled to hard from the birth canal by doctors, but has found ways to overcome this.
He has the potential to be a consistent pass rusher from the strongside, but will have to remain healthy in order to do that. Biermann, the super reserve, will apply pressure from here as well and Jackson will book-end on run downs (if he doesn’t become a cap casualty).
Ultimately, Malliciah Goodman is the x-factor for this entire group. After former coach Mike Smith asked Goodman to get his playing weight up to 285 pounds, the new regime is slimming him back down to his college weight with an eye on finding a diamond in the rough.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
With massive hands and surprising strength, a slimmed-down Goodman could blossom into a deadly defensive end. He knows how to convert speed to power well when rushing the passer, and he uses his “violent” hands (as they have been called) to keep opposing linemen from moving him and can easily stifle their counters with his hand placement.
With proper development under Coach Quinn and another year under Bryan Cox, Goodman could become a monster. He is one player to keep an eye on this training camp and if he can put it all together, the Falcons defensive line could have their own version of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
There is a very stark contrast between the defensive line of last year and the one going into this year. The talent pool has increased immensely and the Falcons have the combination of coaches and scheme fits to build something special in the coming years.
What say you, the people? How do you think this revamped Falcon defensive line will do next year?