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Falcons Training Camp Review: Defensive Tackle

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The big men up front are big men, indeed.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

We come to defensive tackle, which features some of the largest players on this roster. This will, fittingly, be a large preview.

In the interest of not over-thinking the 3-4/4-3/multiple defense defensive question, I've just listed all players at defensive tackle who might, you know, play defensive tackle. There'll be some redundancy here from the defensive end post.

All stats are from 2013 unless otherwise noted.

The Players

Paul Soliai - 19 tackles, 1 sack, 5 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble

It's fair to say Soliai is the tackle to watch here, given that he's the largest one and the likely starter at the nose in 3-4 sets. His physical presence and run-stopping ability make him an excellent anchor for this line, and he can tip away a few passes along the way. Just don't expect him to be a terrific pass rusher on his own, but I have high hopes he'll enable others.

A healthy, effective Soliai will change the face of the Falcons' defense, at least on first and second downs.

Jonathan Babineaux - 28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass deflection, 1 forced fumble

Babineaux has always been a more disruptive presence than his stat lines indicate, and that was particularly true in 2013. It was also true that he looked like he might be ready to transition into more of a part-time role, one that gives him a significant number of snaps but gets him off the field enough to keep him fresh and let other, more effective run-stopping tackles get in on the action.

Babs will likely start outside in 3-4 sets in 2014, but I'd be surprised if he didn't cede snaps to other players when the Falcons go four down.

Tyson Jackson - 34 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 pass deflections

Jackson will be a 3-4 end, but I think there's a better-than-small chance he's inside when the Falcons go four down. He's a massive player who can rush the passer a little, he's capable of swatting passes at the line of scrimmage and despite his reputation as a draft bust, he's a rock against the run. He'll move around a bit and will hopefully be as effective as he was a year ago.

Ra'Shede Hageman - Rookie

The future. Hageman's best role is probably 3-4 end, but he'll move inside at times. There's enough potential here to be excited about, and he could be the rare pass rushing defensive tackle that truly excels. Look for plenty of snaps and hopefully at least a decent rookie season out of Hageman.

Corey Peters - 46 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 pass deflections

Probably the team's best defensive tackle just a year ago, Peters walks into 2014 with at least three notable additions to the defensive line and coming off of a major injury, which truly sucks. If healthy, he's a good bet to be a big part of the rotation and one of the team's best interior pass rushing options, particularly in four linemen sets. The health is the question.

Peria Jerry - 33 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 pass deflection

Jerry is likely to fall victim to the numbers game along the line. He had arguably his best season in 2013 as a rotational tackle, but remains just a so-so player when all is said and done, and he's already 29 years old.

Travian Robertson - 2 tackles

If the team is looking for a dedicated backup for Paul Soliai, it's possible they'd keep Travian Robertson, who has the strength of three men. It's a long shot, though.

What's Changed

A lot. The Falcons added Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson and Ra'Shede Hageman, all of whom will see time at defensive tackle. The emphasis has been adding size up front, and hey, mission accomplished.

The team's two best defensive tackles from a year ago, Peters and Babineaux, aren't guaranteed starting jobs. Their third best was probably Peria Jerry, and I'd be fairly surprised if he made the roster. Few positions have turned over as much as this one.

The Big Question

How effective will the added beef truly be? Can the Falcons anticipate not just a better run defense, but a defensive front that occupies blockers and helps to improve the pass rush, as well? Will Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai be true two down players, or will they have expanded roles? Can Ra'Shede Hageman deliver on his promise early? Is this more than one big question?

Best Case Scenario

Soliai provides a dominant presence up front, the Falcons rotate well and find every player in the rotation has real value and the defensive front is drastically improved for 2014.

Worst Case Scenario

Soliai is only moderately effective and can't help the pass rush, Jackson doesn't do much, Peters doesn't recover well from his injury, Hageman isn't ready and Babineaux is washed up. The Falcons get gashed up the middle again and the pass rush doesn't get enough help from the interior.

Summary

This position is unquestionably stronger than it was a year ago, and while the worst case scenario sounds terrifying, I don't think it's particularly likely. Look for DT to be a strength this year, even if the gains are relatively modest.