(Over the offseason, we’ll take a look at each of the position groups. Today, we look at the linebackers.)
FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons did not like the length or speed of their linebacker corps from 2015.
They have spent a great deal of resources on trying to improve the unit this offseason.
Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich believes that unit can infuse the defense with a nasty attitude.
“That’s what fast and physical is about, it’s about taking your shot,” Ulbrich said. “Dealing with us and us not dealing with you. Guys are buying in.”
The goal for the Falcons was to get faster and longer so that they can play better pass defense.
“To me length is not necessarily height,” Ulbrich said. “Height, I could care less about. I really could. Length, to me, is arm length. When I’m evaluating guys before I get into anything else, and I know this sounds real generic, but it’s like give me a 40 time, give me a vertical jump, good, so I know speed and explosiveness.
“Now, the next thing that I look for is arm length. Is it 33 (inches) plus? Sometimes, we get into that 31 range and he’s off the board for us.”
Deion Jones, who was selected in the second round, has a 32 3/8-inch arm length, just under the 33-inch mark. De’Vondre Campbell, a fourth-round pick, has a 33 5/8-inch arm length.
“In our defense, we put a lot on our backers… regarding vertical responsibility with receivers,” Ulbrich said. “So, if I’m telling my linebackers to play downhill, hardcore run defense and then take a vertical route with a receiver, that’s good clinic talk, but it’s not going to work.
“So in the run game, we are a little more lateral than we are downhill. So, if I’m now downhill, I can’t create separation by striking. So, I have to create separation now, with my arm length to stay clean, stay free of blockers. It’s become extremely important in our scheme.”
The linebackers also must help with defending running backs and sometimes tight ends in the pass game.
“People have to get over the completion percentage to tight ends and backs,” Ulbrich said. “Because I’d like to think people understand that we play cover-three (zone). We are not matching the tight ends. We are not matching the backs.
“In our system, the (defensive backs) are going to stay on top and eliminate the big play. Ideally, I don’t have the deep ball, I throw the check-down. The check-down is going to be there. That’s running backs and tight ends, typically.”
Once, the ball is checked down, the linebackers must attack the ball carriers and put big hits on them.
“What has to come to life is the ability to close on them and punish them,” Ulbrich said. “I think the young guys that we got are going to be able to make that come to life. I think some of the older guys that we got are getting a better understanding of that and how to make that come to life.”
WLB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 41 Philip Wheeler, 59 De'Vondre Campbell, 46 Torrey Green, 48 Ivan McLennan
MLB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds
SLB 44 Vic Beasley, 50 Brooks Reed, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 41 Tyler Starr, 54 Josh Dawson
90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS -- POSITION BY POSITION
FALCONS' OFFSEASON SPOTLIGHTS