Only one of the three starting Falcons linebackers from a season ago is still in the lineup. That’s middle linebacker Paul Worrilow.
Worrilow will be joined by No. 8 overall pick Vic Beasley Jr. and offseason addition Brooks Reed. Beasley gives the Falcons a huge boost at outside linebacker. He will likely man the weakside in his rookie year while Reed will lineup at strongside.
Beasley compiled 25 of his 33 sacks at Clemson over his final two seasons, including a career-best 13 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss as a junior. He also had 29 quarterback pressures, 11 pass breakups, seven caused fumbles, two recovered fumbles and two touchdowns in his 48 games for the Tigers.
“He’s got great speed and quickness, very similar to Von Miller,” Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith told ESPN.com. “I’m not saying he’s a Von Miller. You’ve got to go out and earn those things. But I think if you talk to Vic, he would tell you that (Miller) is one of the players that he’s watched over the years. But he does have that elite quickness, very similar to what Von Miller had when he came out.”
Alongside Beasley is the steady Worrilow, who led Atlanta in tackles (142) and forced fumbles (2) in 2014. Placing Reed next to the physical Worrilow and speedy Beasley will only give Falcons fans hope that this starting trio will be able to turn things around. Reed signed a five-year, $22 million deal on Mar. 10 after making 52 starts in four seasons in Houston.
The Falcons certainly need to improve after such a disappointing display last season. Atlanta’s defense ranked last in yards allowed per game (398.2), yards per play (6.1), first downs per game (22.4) and third down percentage (47).
It marked the second straight year that the Falcons’ defense finished 27th in points allowed and it was the second time in franchise history and first since 2003 that they ranked last in yards allowed per game.
Luckily for Atlanta they have the easiest schedule based off of their opponents records in 2014. Only four of their 2015 opponents finished with a winning record (Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Houston and Dallas). Of course, the fact that none of the four teams in the NFC South finished above .500 factored into that schedule ranking.
With Dan Quinn taking over as head coach of the Falcons, the defensive side of the ball will be a major focus while the offense, run by quarterback Matt Ryan, continues to put up numbers.
“This (Quinn’s) defense preaches intensity, attitude and effort and that is something I think I bring,” Worrilow said via Falcons.com in April. “ I look forward to working on all the fundamentals of the things they are preaching and I think it is going to be a good offseason.”
The Falcons also have offseason signing Justin Durant, third year Texas State product Joplo Bartu and six other linebackers fighting for roster spots.
Durant is a 10-year veteran who has made 80 starts between the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, including 12 over the last two seasons with the Cowboys. Bartu is an undrafted free agent who has made 17 starts in two seasons with Atlanta. He ranked third in tackles (83) last season.
Bartu and Durant are the top two guys who will compete for snaps with Reed at strongside. Beasley, who stands at 6’3″ is expected to be used as a defensive end at times in Quinn’s aggressive scheme, so that will leave spots open at times for other guys.
Atlanta is much better off defensively just with Quinn, but their core is improved and with Beasley on the outside this could be one of the best trios by years’ end. The Falcons won’t be ranked at the bottom of the league this year that’s for sure.