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Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DEPTH CHART: How to stack Amoeba 4-3/3-4 defense

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FLOWERY BRANCH – Despite an offseason of picking up parts to better fit the 3-4, Falcons coach Mike Smith continues to point out that the Falcons will remain a 4-3/3-4 team in 2014.

They have used both defenses under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan over the past two seasons. But they clearly have some better 3-4 parts after adding nose tackle Paul Soliai, defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Ra’Shede Hageman and linebacker Prince Shembo.

“We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as ‘this defense’ or ‘that defense’,” Smith said. “I think when you really study how people play defense, and how we play defense you don’t know what we are, and that’s the key. You got to have guys that play the different roles.”

Smith sounds like former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian describing their old Amoeba defense.

“There are certain matchups you don’t want to expose any of your linebackers to all the time, but when you got an illusion going on somewhere else you can allow that to happen,” Smith said.

Smith explained more on the Falcons’ Amoeba defense and why the team needed to draft four linebackers.

“We want to be as flexible as we can on the defensive side,” Smith said. “We did need to replenish at the linebacker position, and the guys that we’ve added, all four of them have special traits. I think at playing the linebacker position you have to have a lot of flexibility.

“You have to have the ability at times to rush the passer. Sometimes you got to be able to put your hand on the ground. Sometimes you got to be able to drop, and as you know, as exotic as we try to be in third down situations, we got a lot of guys standing in two-point stances and they’re going to have to do different jobs.

“That was the thinking behind that, and I really like the guys that we’ve added….these are guys we felt were going to give us a lot of flexibility on defense.”

He believes that fourth-round linebacker Prince Shembo’s versatility is special.

“You got to have guys that play the different roles,” Smith said. “I believe Prince can do that. Prince can rush the passer. Prince can drop into coverage. Prince can matchup.”

It sounds like he’s going to get a shot to get on the field early.

“We really like the energy that he plays with,” Smith said. “He’s a guy that when he gets going up the field, slices in the backfield he can make some plays. He’s got big strong hands and an upper body.”

Here’s my early take on how to stack the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses on your depth charts. Everyone is not accounted for (deep reserves and undrafted rookie signees). We will tweak this depth chart as we move forward to the rookie minicamp (friday through Sunday), the OTAs (May 27-June 12) and the mandatory minicamp (June 17-19):


LDE – Tyson Jackson, Jonathan Babineaux

NT – Paul Soliai, Corey Peters

RDE – Ra’Shede Hageman, Malliciah Goodman, Peria Jerry

ROLB – Sean Weatherspoon, Osi Umenyiora, Stansly Maponga, Tyler Starr

ILB – Akeem Dent, Marquis Spruill

ILB – Paul Worrilow, Yawin Smallwood

LOLB – Prince Schembo, Kroy Biermann, Joplo Bartu

RCB -- Desmond Trufant, Robert McClain

LCB – Josh Wilson, Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen

SS -- William Moore, Zeke Motta

FS -- Dwight Lowery, Dezmen Southward


RE -- Tyson Jackson (vs. run), Osi Umenyiora (vs. pass),

NT -- Paul Soliai, Corey Peters

UT -- Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry

LE -- Jonathan Massaquoi, Ra’Shede Hageman, Malliciah Goodman

WLB -- Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann

MLB -- Paul Worrilow, Akeem Dent

SLB -- Prince Shembo, Joplo Bartu

RCB -- Desmond Trufant, Robert McClain

LCB -- Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen

SS -- William Moore, Zeke Motta

FS -- Dwight Lowery, Dezmen Southward


Round 1 / 6 -- Jake Matthews, RT, 6-5, 308, Texas A&M

Round 2/37 – Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, 6-6, Minnesota

Round 3/68 – Dezmen Southward, FS, 6-0, 211, Wisconsin

Round 4/103 – Devonta Freeman, RB, 5-8, 206, Florida State

Round 4/139 – Prince Shembo, LB, 6-1, 253 Notre Dame

Round 5/147 – Ricardo Allen, CB, 5-9, 187, Purdue

Round 5/168 – Marquis Spruill, LB, 6-1, 231, Syracuse

Round 7/253 – Yawin Smallwood, LB, 6-2, 246, Connecticut

Round 7/255 – Tyler Starr, LB, 6-4, 250, South Dakota

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.