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.
Yesterday the Falcons announced the signing of four of their six 2012 draft picks, as well as the signing of three players that tried out with the team during this past weekend’s rookie minicamp. Of the draftees that signed on the dotted line, top pick Peter Konz, along with fullback Bradie Ewing, safety Charles Mitchell, and defensive tackle Travian Robertson signed four-year deals. Offensive tackle Lamar Holmes and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi still remain unsigned. From the teams tryout players, the team signed fullback Lee Meisner, wide receiver Kenny Stafford, and tight end Aron White. To make room, the team cut ties with undrafted defensive tackle Ray Kibble.
Meisner (5-11/241) hails from Colorado State-Pueblo where he served as a four-year starter at inside linebacker. He also served part-time as the team’s punter his freshman and sophomore year, combining for 36.0-yard average on 53 punts. He led the team three consecutive years in tackling, having a career high of 124 tackles and 9.5 for loss as a junior. He had 98 tackles, 8 for loss, and a career-high 4 interceptions as a senior. For his career, Meisner finished with 349 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 8 interceptions, 12 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 recovery. The Falcons intend on converting him to offense in order to compete for a reserve spot at fullback.
Stafford (6-1/198) started 9 of 13 games this past year for Toledo, catching 21 passes for 272 yards (13.0 avg) and 1 touchdown. For his career, he caught 59 passes for 906 yards (15.4 avg) and 8 scores during his career, predominantly as a reserve. At Toledo’s pro day in March he clocked a 4.37 40 time with a 35-inch vertical jump. He is also the nephew of former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro wideout Cris Carter.
White (6-4/239) was the backup to Orson Charles at Georgia working most of his career as the No. 2 guy. But he did start as a sophomore, where he had career bests of 13 catches for 198 yards (15.2 avg) and 4 touchdowns, while starting 12 of 13 games. The past two seasons, he has caught a combined 18 passes for 226 yards (12.6 avg) and 4 scores.
With their final pick in the 2012 Draft, the Falcons took South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson with the 249th overall in the seventh round. Robertson was a team captain at South Carolina, and a two-year starter. He began his sophomore year as the starter before an ACL injury cut his season short. In two years, he combined for 91 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks as one of the anchors of the Gamecocks defensive line.
Robertson is a high motor player that will add depth to the rotation and compete with Vance Walker and Peria Jerry for reps behind starters Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. Robertson, who stand 6’4″ 300 did 30 bench reps at the Combine, showcasing his strength. Click here to read a scouting report on Robertson from SI.com.