The Falcons defensive front has undergone some notable changes in the years leading up to 2015. Gone is defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who helped revamp the Falcons front into an improved unit. Replacing Nolan in 2015 is Joe Danna, formerly the Falcons secondary coach. Nolan helped bridge the gap from the Falcons 4-3 days to a 3-4 scheme. But the Falcons still implement a hybrid scheme, being able to switch easily between schemes depending on the situation.
The anchor of the front is no longer John Abraham, as he and the Falcons parted ways after 2013. They used their top pick the following spring on Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. Werner’s combination of size and quickness made the team see him as a potential Justin Smith-type of player, capable of playing at a high level in either scheme.
When the Falcons employ their 4-3 set, on the opposite side of the field from Werner, the team has used both Lawrence Sidbury and Jonathan Massaquoi in a rotation. Both players over the years have learned how to drop into coverage, and can freely move from playing with their hand on the ground or off it when the need arises.
On the inside, the team parted aways with Jonathan Babineaux after his contract expired in 2014. The team replaced him by signing former Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. Alualu’s experience playing in a 3-4 at Cal, and a 4-3 in Jacksonville made him an excellent fit in the Falcons hybrid scheme. Playing alongside him in their four-man front is still Corey Peters who signed an extension the same off-season Babineaux was let go. When the Falcons need to beef up their front, Peters gives way to a rotation of Sylvester Williams and Travian Robertson. Williams was the team’s fourth round pick in 2013 out of North Carolina. Williams has the bulk (320 pounds) and motor that in conjunction with Robertson, they form a nice pair of nose tackle for their three-man fronts in the middle.
As has been the norm under Mike Smith, the Falcons make a heavy use of a rotation to get the job done up front. The Falcons hope that with Danna taking over for Nolan, that the team can elevate their front to a new level. There are no superstars on the Falcons front, but they think Werner has the potential to develop into one of the better defensive linemen in the league, and they hope he starts to live up to those expectations come 2015.