Atlanta Falcons Blog: Falcons using NFL stars to teach edge rushers

FLOWERY BRANCH GA — The turnover took place within the Atlanta Falcons Ted Monachino, position coach for the football team, did his job in the edge rusher room during the past six months.

He watched football from his chair. He watched so much football.

He wasn’t, though, watching many of his own players from last year, but rather opponents and defenses league-wide. He wanted his new players learn from the best in the league.

For Atlanta, the pass rush has to be better than last season, when the Falcons’ 18 sacks were 11 fewer than the next-worst team. Atlanta had a pass rush win rate of 34.2%, and the team’s 144 pass rush wins were ahead of only the Detroit Lions. Of Atlanta’s 18 sacks, only 8.5 came from edge rushers.

Monachino reminded his new players of this “five or six times a week,” even though most of them had nothing to do with what happened last season.

The Falcons nearly eliminated their entire pass rusher group this offseason. Dante Fowler Jr. (4.5 sacks in the last year). James Vaughters (One bag) were released. Atlanta cut Jacob Tuioti-MarinerThe Falcons' second-ranked player in sacks with 2 was, who finished the season tied for second. Brandon Copeland And Steven Means They were not resigned.

Only Ade Ogundejii, a rookie last season with one sack, remains from last year’s rotation.

The Falcons also kept practice-squad members Quinton Bell And Jordan BrailfordSigned Lorenzo Carter The following are the New York Giants In free agency; drafted Arnold Ebiketie In the second round DeAngelo Malone The third; and was brought in Kuony Deng You can be drafted as an undrafted agent.

An older, more experienced edge rusher room at 27 years old became a younger one at camp with a mean age of 24. Last season saw a group which was heavily experienced but low on production turn into a group with little production, but lots of potential.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys with fresh legs,” Ogundeji said. “And that’s a big thing for us.”

It led to Monachino’s approach. Monachino ordered his rushers to watch the 17 players who had at least two sacks last season. He also watched the top six pass-rushing defenses. This was his way to demonstrate how to make as many one-on-1 opportunities as possible and then to teach his players how they can win those matchups.

Monachino had the video downloaded on each player’s tablet so the player could watch whomever he wanted whenever he wanted.

Monachino identified rushers for certain players based upon body type and position. Ogundeji wanted to see the game. New Orleans Saints Edge rusher — And Falcons quarterback nightmare — Cameron Jordan, “because he’s a big, physical rusher.”

He wanted Ebiketie's watch Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher and last year’s NFL sack leader T.J. Watt, because “that’s a similar body type.”

They’d often watch together in meetings, so Monachino could point out how his players “have a chance to do these different things” they see from players in the video.

It was a decision made because Ogunedji, Carter and Carter were not experienced enough to play. Carter had five sacks and 14.5 in his four seasons with the Giants.

“The fact that we have a lot of new guys doesn’t really mean much,” Carter said. “But the expectation is high for all of us.”

Monachino made a change to another approach, in addition to the tape. He rarely had to explain why Falcons approached a play differently than Means, Copeland and Fowler. From the thousands of snaps they'd played, veterans in the league knew that.

“These guys, I spend a little bit more time on the why, how it all fits together, why they have to do it the way they have to do it so it fits together with what the secondary force pattern is and all that other stuff,” Monachino said. “That’s the one difference.”

To prepare his players for the challenges they will face this season, he has made it a point to provide high-leverage situations for his younger players.

He also uses a green-dotted pointer — that’s the color they gave him — to highlight players during coaching sessions if a mistake has been made.

“Say this right here isn’t good enough,” Monachino said. “And make sure they understand what the expectation is.”

In reality, the expectation is quite simple. It’s creating havoc. It’s playing smart. And it’s producing much, much more than Atlanta’s edge rushers did a season ago.

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