You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Freeney’s leadership, experience helping improve Falcons’ pass rush


Last season, the Falcons could not pressure the quarterback.

The Falcons produced only 19 sacks, the lowest mark in the NFL since 2009. So in free agency, the team signed one of the most prolific pass rushers in league history: defensive end Dwight Freeney.

With the 15-year vet on the squad, the Falcons (7-4) have jumped to 15th in the league in sacks, with 24 this season. Freeney’s three sacks in 10 games do not put fear in opposing left tackles the way his number once did, but he ranks third on the team. Now that defensive end Adrian Clayborn is out or the season after surgery to repair a knee injured last week, Freeney will be asked to take on an increased role, something he said he is well prepared for.

“It’s a rotation sometimes,” Freeney said. “Every man in that 53 roster matters. So you have to make sure that your game is tight at all times and ready to roll because you could be out there and having to have to make plays for this team.”

Going into December with Clayborn (second on the team with 4.5 sacks) on the shelf, Freeney’s contributions on the field will mean more to the Falcons. But what Freeney adds in the film room and in practice might have an even bigger impact on the team.

Freeney said he looks to help teach the game to younger players the same way it was taught to him when he arrived in the NFL. He added that although guys may be competing with one another for playing time, nothing matters if the team is losing, so he wants to use his experience to help explain the mental aspect of the game to his teammates.

Because Freeney has “a lot of miles on (his) wheels,” the Falcons have limited him in practice. Although Freeney is not taking snaps some days, defensive coordinator Richard Smith said he still participates by showing guys what to do. When another player is explaining the intricacies of the game, Smith said it is more powerful than when a coach does it.

“I love him in the building because he is a true pro,” Smith said. “The game means so much to him. … You got to listen to him — all our coaches do. What I’m most pleased about him, is the way he studies the game, and then that way, it carries over to the other people.”

One of the players Freeney’s lessons have seemed to help most is Vic Beasley Jr. The second-year linebacker has emerged as one of the league’s best at attacking the quarterback, ranking fifth in the NFL with 9.5 sacks. This comes after a rookie season in which he had only four sacks in 16 games.

Smith said Beasley’s understanding of the game has improved simply by playing for a year, but Smith and coach Dan Quinn also look at what Freeney brings to the meeting room as an additional factor behind Beasley’s success.

“We did not bring Dwight in here to be a mentor to Vic,” Quinn said. “We brought Dwight in here to rush. A byproduct of that has been their relationship. It’s been on that, Vic is somebody that watches and will ask, but it took a little while for that relationship to develop.”

Freeney said Beasley has all the physical tools needed to become an elite pass rusher, and he wants to help him become even better.

It’s not only Beasley who has benefited from Freeney, though. Beasley said the entire defensive line has learned and grown.

When the Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, Freeney will be needed to help fill the hole left in Clayborn’s absence and utilize his expertise on the field even more. However, Freeney said his insight better serves others.

“This knowledge that I have and experience, it’s not for me,” he said. “Yeah, it helps me make plays at the older age I am now, but it’s really for the younger guys. For them to understand what I’m doing so they can grow and they can feed their families, and they can do the things they need to do in their career.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Falcons

Ex-Tucker standout A.J. Bouye is a top NFL free agent
Ex-Tucker standout A.J. Bouye is a top NFL free agent

Cornerback A.J. Bouye, the classic late-bloomer, is set to become a very rich man in a few weeks. Coming out of Tucker High school in 2010, Bouye had exactly one college scholarship offer. “There were some small schools,” Bouye told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. “Some small schools. UCF offered me. I know that I talked...
Report: Falcons to meet with Earl Mitchell
Report: Falcons to meet with Earl Mitchell

Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who was recently cut by the Miami Dolphins, is set to visit the Falcons, according to report by NFL Network. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is pleased with the roster, but this signals that the team is trying to strengthen the defensive front before the combine starts later this month. “I really believe...
Sports biz week: Emptying the Dome; Braves stock surge; UGA project
Sports biz week: Emptying the Dome; Braves stock surge; UGA project

Five things we learned in Atlanta sports business this week: 1. A St. Louis-based company has been hired to liquidate the contents of the soon-to-be-demolished Georgia Dome: seats ($599 per pair), lockers, signs, pieces of artificial turf, furniture from the suites, kitchen equipment, you name it. Schneider Industries has a history of selling contents...
How Falcons can build off of breakthrough 2016 season
How Falcons can build off of breakthrough 2016 season

The Falcons reclaimed the NFC South title and became NFC champions for the second time in franchise history last season. The Falcons, calling themselves a Brotherhood, had a major breakthrough in coach Dan Quinn’s second season as head coach before collapsing in the Super Bowl in grand fashion against New England, blowing a 25-point lead. The...
Falcons add Charlie Weis Jr. to round out coaching staff
Falcons add Charlie Weis Jr. to round out coaching staff

Bush Hamdan was named the Falcons quarterbacks coach Friday, along with a few other assistants. In addition to Hamdan, the team announced the hiring of Dave Brock as an offensive assistant, Kyle Flood as the assistant offensive line coach and Charlie Jackson as a defensive assistant. The Falcons also announced Justin Outten as an offensive assistant...
More Stories