clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Making Sense of the Falcons' Moves Along the Defensive Line

There is sense here, we swear.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to his days as the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida, Dan Quinn has been known to tinker with lineups and personnel groupings along the defensive line. As the offseason has progressed, there have been four major moves along the defensive line:

1. Grady Jarrett's move to nose tackle.

2. Signing of defensive end Derrick Shelby from the Miami Dolphins.

3. Vic Beasley moving from LEO (weakside defensive end) to SAM (strongside linebacker).

4. Ra'Shede Hageman sliding over from defensive tackle to defensive end.

These four moves need to be looked through the lens of the two prominent personnel groupings the Falcons will feature this year: the "base defense" which is the 4-3 Under and the Nickel defense.

Let's take a look at the 4-3 Under to get a clearer picture of where the shuffling begins.

The biggest area of confusion from these moves has come from Ra'Shede Hageman moving to defensive end and Vic Beasley moving to strongside linebacker. Hageman is taking over Tyson Jackson's role as the 4-technique strongside defensive end. This is essentially another defensive tackle role in the base defense. Hageman will have the responsibility of controlling the B and the C gaps adjacent to him; this isn't a true upfield penetration role like the one he played last season.

When thinking about Vic Beasley's move to SAM linebacker, notice where Brooks Reed is positioned in the Under front. He's on the ball, lined up 1-2 yards over from the tight end. Look where Kroy Biermann is lined up at LEO on the other side of formation.

Which side has the more favorable matchup versus the run? Reed setting the edge against a tight end or Biermann potentially taking on a double team between the offensive tackle and the tight end?

At his heaviest, Beasley will probably hover around 245-250 pounds; not an ideal matchup against behemoth offensive tackles against the run. Playing him as an edge setter against tight ends and fullbacks against the run will help improve the run defense without siphoning any of his pass rush opportunities.

The Beasley experiment shouldn't be that groundbreaking, his transition to outside linebacker began towards the back half of last season.

On this interception versus the 49ers, he's lined as the SAM linebacker over the tight ends to the strong side. He naturally drops into coverage assignment and his athleticism shines as he gets the interception.

Even these opportunities will be limited, Quinn came out and said himself that the Falcons plan on running nickel defense 60% of the time.

The Nickel defense subs out the strongside linebacker for an extra defensive back to better defend the pass. Beasley won't be coming off the field in these situations, he'll just be sliding down to the left defensive end role that he played towards the end of the season. Expect Derrick Shelby to line up at 3-technique next to him in these situations.

It's little difficult to draw up the base defensive line right now, but it feels like there are two possible personnel groupings right now:

Group One:

SAM: Vic Beasley

4-Technique Defensive End: Ra'Shede Hageman

Nose Tackle: Grady Jarrett

3-Technique: Derrick Shelby

LEO (Weakside Defensive End): Adrian Clayborn

Group Two:

SAM: Vic Beasley

4-Technique Defensive End: Ra'Shede Hageman

Nose Tackle: Grady Jarrett

3-Technique: Jonathan Babineaux/Tyson Jackson

LEO: Derrick Shelby

Nickel defensive line is clearer right now, it should shape up like this:

Left Defensive End: Vic Beasley

3-Technique: Derrick Shelby

Nose/1-Technique: Grady Jarrett

Right Defensive End: Adrian Clayborn

Right now, it's a huge cluster of defensive linemen that are trying to figure out where they fit best, which is fine since it's only May. Once training camp kicks off the next several weeks the picture will be much clearer.