The Atlanta Falcons have been extremely busy this offseason, making adjustments in all categories, as well as bringing in Thomas Dimitroff‘s former boss Scott Pioli as the assistant general manager. In addition to bringing in new personnel, the Falcons have also been promoting from within. On Monday, it was confirmed that Falcons defensive assistant Mark Collins was named as the new outside linebackers coach and Andrew Thacker was hired as the new defensive assistant.
So with this recent coaching change, could this be an early indication that the Falcons will in fact switch to the 3-4 scheme for 2014? Well considering the depth in this year’s NFL Draft, especially in the pass rush category, and the type of defensive players available in free agency, it makes perfect sense that could be the case. Also Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan actually prefers this type of defense, and many assumed this would have been put into effect the moment Nolan came aboard in the first place. Nolan also had a lot of success with previous teams implementing the 3-4. So after the Falcons’ inability to stop the run and produce sacks in 2013 under the 4-3, it is pretty obvious this ailing defense must convert.
Among the top linebackers in the draft who would fit the part in a Falcons’ 3-4 defense include outside linebacker Anthony Barr or OLB Khalil Mack. Both are expected to go within the first 10 picks of the draft.
As for the Falcons’ current linebacker corps, which includes Sean Weatherspoon, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, Nolan’s defense could actually do some damage under the 3-4. For Bartu especially, his explosiveness on the edge and athleticism actually already applies to a 3-4 scheme, so Bartu could very well be the starter over Kroy Biermann this season. Also, if defensive end Osi Umenyiora agrees to take a pay cut, he could still make a major contribution to this new defense even at his age.
The Falcons have yet to make a big defensive splash in free agency, but according to reports, they are showing strong interest in Miami Dolphins‘ tackle Paul Soliai, who is another 3-4 type guy. At 340-pounds, Soliai’s size can definitely bring opposing run games to a halt. And if the Falcons can snag this guy, it would be even better knowing he will be playing alongside defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who re-signed for a three-year deal earlier today.
So far, I am liking the sense of urgency the Falcons are displaying for the upcoming 2014 season, both in free agency and with current personnel adjustments. And as of now, it is more obvious the Falcons will be drafting a pass rusher as the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. If the Falcons can score big in the draft and continue to get more bang for their buck in free agency, this new-look defense could be back in the driver’s seat sooner than we could have predicted.