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Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

July 21st, 2008

The Falcons defensive line also went through some major changes, particularly on the inside.

Inside, the team will have some serious competition for the two starting jobs. As of right now, however Jonathan Babineaux and Montavious Stanley are slated to be the team’s starters. Babineaux had his moments as a fill-in over the past few years replacing Rod Coleman when he was down with injury. Now the Falcons hope that Babineaux can be able to put it all together for a complete season. Babineaux has good quickness and can put pressure on the quarterback, something that the team will need this season as it tries to replace a pass rusher like Coleman.

Stanley is slated to start at the nose tackle position. But Stanley is essentially only penciled in as the starter because Trey Lewis, the incumbent is out with injury. There has been no timetable as when Lewis may return, and that probably won’t be known until a few days or weeks into camp. Lewis suffered a knee injury last year, but re-aggravated it in the off-season. More dire reports indicate he could miss several months of the regular season at the least. Stanley filled in for Lewis late last year, and like Babineaux had his moments. He’s a big, run stuffer. The reason he’s ahead of the other possible replacements for Lewis is because the coaching staff knows him, after he spent much of the first half of the 2006 season with the Jaguars.

Babineaux is unlikely to be pushed significantly for his starting job, while Stanley will probably be looking over his shoulder throughout training camp.

If either is unseated, Kindal Moorehead may be the one to do it. Moorehead is similar to Babineaux. He spent the past five years as a rotation player with the Panthers. He’s best when putting pressure on the quarterback, and will likely get a chance to impact on passing downs. His best season came in 2004, when he replaced an injured Kris Jenkins and performed fairly well in his absence.

Joining Moorehead are two more valuable veterans in Rashad Moore and Tim Anderson. Both have starting experience, but it’s doubtful either would leapfrog both Stanley and Moorehead to gain the starting position. Both will most likely compete for the nose tackle position. Anderson was signed by the team last year due to injury, and made some contributions as a pass rusher. As a starter with the Bills a few years back, he was a disappointment. Meaning, Anderson’s best contributions are probably off the bench.

Moore would probably be able to contribute more as a run stopper. He started for the Seahawks in 2004, but like Anderson works best in a rotation rather than as a starter. He’s familiar to Thomas Dimitroff due to his time with the Patriots last year.

Also in the mix is David Patterson. The team thought very highly of Patterson a year ago as an undrafted free agent, that he was one of the highest paid undrafted free agents. But he missed the entire season with injury. Patterson offers some versatility as a guy that could potentially play end or tackle for the Falcons. But they will be looking mostly for him to provide some pressure from the interior this year.

The competition at end won’t be as heavy. One starter’s job is very safe, and that is John Abraham, the team’s leading sacker last year. Abraham has been nicked up in the past, and that is always a concern for arguably the team’s top player on either side of the ball. Abraham is adept as a speed rusher and forcing turnovers and is an obvious difference maker when he’s healthy.

The other end is not so secure, although incumbent Jamaal Anderson will likely be given numerous opportunities to retain his job. Anderson struggled last year as a rookie, going the entire season without a sack. The team is hopeful that with a year’s experience, being a few pounds lighter, and the added tutelage of new defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, Anderson can make huge strides this year.

If anybody is going to push Anderson it will be Chauncey Davis. Davis clearly outplayed Anderson last year, and he’s not known as a pass rusher. Davis is an ideal third defensive end due to his ability to play the run and rush the quarterback, although he’s better at the former.

The team also added ex-Brown Simon Fraser. Fraser may also get work inside at defensive tackle. Like Patterson, he’s an Ohio State alum that offers the versatility to play multiple positions and could be a valued commodity in the rotation.

The team also tried to upgrade the speed it had on the edge with fifth round draft pick Kroy Biermann, undrafted free agent Brandon Miller, and Willie Evans. Biermann was an impact player at Montana and is known for his motor. Both he and Miller are undersized, so even if they made the roster their reps would be limited. Both would probably be ideal practice squad players where they can use the year to get stronger and bigger before they are put to the test. But if both show some ability as a situational pass rushers this summer, they will get chances during the regular season. Evans has bounced out the league on several teams since entering in 2006 as an undrafted free agent. Like Miller and Biermann, he lacks ideal size but will be given a chance to impact as a situational pass rusher.

The Battles

Stanley vs. Anderson vs. Moore vs. Moorehead – Stanley has the edge, but all will be given the chance to win the nose tackle job as the fill-in until Lewis is healthy.

The Falcons will likely keep eight lineman as part of their rotation, not including Lewis. Abraham, Anderson, and Davis seem unlikely to be released. But who the other five are is a toss-up. Stanley, Fraser, and Moorehead may have the inside track to three of those jobs. Biermann, Evans, Miller, and Patterson are all eligible for the practice squad.

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