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Falcons Training Camp Preview: Defensive End

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The defensive end position is perceived as one of the weakest on the roster currently. How is this position shaping up as we head into training camp?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end is definitely perceived as one of the Falcons' weakest positions on the roster. Let's take a look at what the Falcons are working with at the defensive end position as we head into training camp.

The Players

Kroy Biermann is returning from a torn Achilles suffered early in the 2013 season. He participated during minicamp and should be functioning at 100% when the season begins. The versatile lineman can be expected to spend some time at outside linebacker, also, although he is listed on Atlanta's roster as a defensive end.

Osi Umenyiora, acquired by Atlanta in free agency prior to the 2013 season, didn't necessarily overwhelm anyone with his successes last season, and his role with the Falcons this season as they transition to a 3-4 base defense remains undefined. It's possible we'll see Umenyiora used more as a situation pass rusher than an every down player. Umenyiora finished the season with seven sacks, 4 hits and 29 hurries.

Jonathan Massaquoi really showed a great deal of potential last season when he won the starting role that had previously been occupied by Osi Umenyiora. In about 200 fewer snaps than Umenyiora, Massaquoi racked up five sacks, four hits, and 19 hurries.

Jonathan Babineaux is technically a defensive tackle, but definitely expect him to bounce outside and play defensive end in 3-4 looks.

Tyson Jackson was acquired by the Falcons in free agency this offseason, and he has a reputation as a real run thumper. Pro Football Focus graded Jackson at +6.7 for the 2013 season against the run. This is better than any other player currently on Atlanta's roster except for Joplo Bartu. Jackson also had four sacks and eight hurries last season.

Ra'Shede Hageman, selected by the Falcons in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, has a lot of promise. He's huge, 6'6" tall and weighing in at 318 pounds, but he's incredibly agile and athletic for his size. He has the potential to be truly disruptive on the field.

Malliciah Goodman is entering his second season with the Falcons. Last season he managed one quarterback hit and ten hurries.

Stansly Maponga is also entering his second season with the Falcons. Maponga had one quarterback hit and two hurries in his rookie season in Atlanta.

Cliff Matthews, the third year defensive end out of South Carolina, didn't get a ton of playing time last season. He had six quarterback hurries last year on 172 snaps.

Nosa Eguae is an undrafted free agent out of Auburn University. Eguae played both defensive tackle and defensive end for the Tigers, and he had 22 tackles, a half of a sack, and six quarterback hurries last season.

What's Changed

The Falcons are reportedly moving to a 3-4 base defense, and although Mike Nolan likes to switch things up pretty consistently, it's still a pretty big transition from the 4-3 base the team has run throughout Mike Smith's tenure.

The Big Question

There are many questions surrounding the defensive end position. How will this unit adapt to the 3-4 base? Who will also spend time at outside linebacker in the 3-4? Will anyone effectively rush the passer? Will the run defense be stouter with the addition of Tyson Jackson?

Best Case Scenario

In a perfect world, a fully healthy Kroy Biermann would be really effective in a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role with Jonathan Massaquoi living up to his considerable potential as well. Osi Umenyiora flourishes in a situational role, and the run defense is vastly improved by the addition of Tyson Jackson.

Worst Case Scenario

If we see no improvement from this unit over last year's performance, that's basically the worst case scenario.

Summary

Many fans insist this position is truly a weakness, but until we start to see how things come together in the base 3-4 and how each of these players will actually be utilized, it's hard to get a good feel for it. It's definitely a position to keep a close eye on throughout training camp and the preseason.