Poe plans to be mega-force for Falcons

Dontari Poe doesn’t know if he can still run the 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds.

In 2012, when word started to circulate that a 6-foot-3, 346-pound defensive tackle from Memphis broke the five-second barrier, the walls along the hallways of Lucas Oil Stadium at the scouting combine starting shaking.

Who’s Poe? Edgar Allan’s kid? Who’s Poe?

“I think so, man,” Poe said, after chuckling, when asked Friday if he could still run a 4.98. “I don’t know if I’ll ever test again, but I think I still got it.”

He ran the fast time after he lifted 225 pounds an incredible 44 times.

With that combination of size, speed and power, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Poe with the 11th pick by then-general manager Scott Pioli, who’s currently the assistant general manager with the Falcons.

He flourished initially in Kansas City and went to the Pro Bowl in his second and third seasons. He underwent back surgery going into his fourth season and was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent after his fifth.

After visiting four teams, he elected to sign with the NFC champion Falcons after meeting with them Tuesday. He said the Falcons’ style of play was a key factor.

“It going to be high-energy, be aggressive and go out there and do what you do best,” Poe said. “That’s me as a (defensive) lineman. That’s the best situation that I could be in.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn is a former defensive line coach.

“He just said that he’s going to let me play ball,” Poe said. “He’s been watching film of me, and he saw the ability that I have. He just thought that I could be a dominant player, and he’s going to let me play.”

Instead of paying Poe $13.5 million for 2017 per the franchise tag, the Chiefs let him test free agency. He basically had to take a 40 percent pay cut from the Falcons.

The Chiefs needed his cash to re-sign safety Eric Berry. Kansas City replaced Poe with defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who signed a similar one-year, $8 million deal. They wanted Poe back, but not at $13.5 million.

Poe had surgery for a herniated disk in July 2015. There was the thought that his back could be a long-term problem.

“Yeah, the back is all-the-way good,” Poe said.

Since the surgery, his stats have dipped. He recorded 39 tackles in 2015 while starting 13 of 15 games, and last season he recorded a career-low 27 tackles while starting all 16 games in a contract year. Poe played 821 snaps last season, 16th most among all NFL defensive linemen.

The Falcons were paced by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett’s 630 defensive snaps.

The Falcons are not deterred, as they have no plans to cut Poe’s snaps.

“It’s really about how we feature him the best,” Quinn told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “For a long time, he’s played a lot of plays. For a big guy, he’s got the stamina to do that.”

The Falcons are going to use Poe at both defensive tackle spots and not pigeon-hole him as a nose tackle over the center.

“I want to feature him where we are really are going to try to penetrate and play aggressive,” Quinn said. “We’ll see how it goes as we get into the season. (We want) to just have him at his best the whole time. I didn’t put a number on it, but he’s been accustomed to being able to play a pretty high (snap) count for a long time. I’m anxious to put him in the group.”

Poe will play alongside Jarrett. Quinn also plans to use free-agent signee Jack Crawford, RaShede Hageman and Courtney Upshaw at defensive tackle.

“I can’t wait to see them all battle,” Quinn said.

The Falcons did a thorough medical check on Poe’s back before making such a hefty investment.

“The fact that he has been able to do so much since then has been a good sign,” Quinn said. “We are encouraged by that.”

The strength-and-conditioning staff will manage Poe’s back and may not require him to do certain lifts or squats in the weight room.

“The thing I’m most encouraged about is his quickness,” Quinn said. “For a big guy, he’s got initial quickness, and that’s not always the case.”

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