With the loss of defensive tackle Derrick Shelby, the Falcons started re-shuffling their defensive line rotation Wednesday.
Shelby, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract March 9 after playing four seasons for the Miami Dolphins, tore his right Achilles against Seattle on Sunday. He will have surgery to repair the injury and was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
The Falcons replaced him on the roster by adding defensive end/tackle Cliff Matthews.
In another roster move, the Falcons promoted rookie safety Sharrod Neasman from the practice squad and released veteran safety Dashon Goldson.
“We are bummed for (Shelby), but we are excited to have Cliff back into the mix,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We’ll get more turns for Courtney Upshaw as well.”
Upshaw, a former star linebacker at Alabama, also signed over the offseason after spending four seasons in Baltimore. He was converted to a defensive lineman.
“We were pleased with the performance at Denver,” Quinn said of Upshaw. “We thought he showed some speed and quickness.”
Upshaw played strongside linebacker for Baltimore the past four years. Great things were projected for him after a fine career at Alabama where he played on two national championship teams, made the second-team AP All-America team and was voted the most valuable defensive player of the 2012 BCS national championship game.
But after the Ravens selected him in the second round (35th overall), they decided not to re-sign him after his four-year, $5.2 million contract was up. He started 51 games in Baltimore and played in 64.
The Falcons signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million make-good contract. He has played in a reserve role in four of the six games and has made three tackles.
“It happens so quickly (on the line) is the biggest thing for him, where at outside linebacker, he had some time to see some things,” Quinn said. “At defensive end or defensive tackle, it’s where the combination of the blocks happen so quickly.”
Upshaw is listed second behind defensive tackle Grady Jarrett on the depth chart. Shelby was getting most of his action and a rush defensive tackle in the nickel defense. He made eight tackles, had two pass breakups and a tackle for a loss.
“He’s plenty strong enough,” Quinn said of Upshaw, who’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds. “He’s a very strong young man. We are pleased that he’s in shape and he’s fit. We are looking forward to his (opportunity) here starting this weekend.”
Matthews was drafted by the Falcons in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2011 NFL draft out of South Carolina. He saw action in 32 games for the Falcons between 2012-14. He also played on special teams.
Matthews was with Tampa Bay earlier this season, but was released Sept. 3. He worked out for the Falcons on Tuesday.
“He looked sharp in his workout,” Quinn said. “He looked really fit and really strong.”
The Falcons like to rotate between eight and nine players along the defensive line and plan to find a role for Matthews.
“We are going to put him right into the mix today,” Quinn said. “We’ll take it all the way through the next three days, it’s a matter of how fast he can get re-acclimated into the system and what we’ll ask him to do. If we can create a role for him in the game, we won’t hesitate to use him if he looks good all the way through the week.”