De’Vondre Campbell has never entirely gotten his due. Throughout much of last season, he was not only the most veteran but also the best linebacker on the field, but when Deion Jones he tends to draw the most attention. Campbell heads into free agency in March 2020, and while he’s established himself as an effective, physical player, I don’t think any of us know what to expect once that happens.
Given that, and given that this is a team in search of defensive resurgence, it’s no great surprise that Campbell is being talked about a lot this spring and summer. He quietly took over being the team’s on-field signal caller when Debo went down a year ago, and part of Dan Quinn assuming more hands-on control of Atlanta’s defense involved spending the offseason working more closely with Campbell.
“We’ve had such a good offseason together,” Quinn said Saturday. ““That’s where I challenged him on; could he take on that mantle that he assumed, and stay with it, even with the return of some players?” Quinn said. “He’s always been really good as somebody who is guarding tight ends and that, but could he bring the whole thing together? The more truth, the more leading we have, the stronger we’ll be. I thought for him, he’s right in the middle of it, and I want to make sure his development as a leader stayed consistent, even with some voices coming back.”
Leadership is a big theme for the Falcons this offseason—as Jeff Schultz wrote last week, the team lost some key voices and didn’t necessarily have others step up into leading roles in 2018—and from that perspective having a passionate, vocal player like Campbell take on more of a role in that regard makes a lot of sense. Quinn’s time is going to be more strained this year in his dual role, and having players he can count on to keep things running smoothly will matter a lot.
Of course, it’s not just that. The Falcons need massive defensive improvement in 2019 to take a leap forward and avoid the kind of disappointing year that could lead to a major shakeup. Someone like Campbell—a player who has been solid-to-great but still likely has untapped upside at age 26—is an ideal time for DQ to spend time with. Unlike the men in front of him, who figure to rotate heavily on a rebuilt defensive line, Campbell’s rarely going to come out of the game and has the skills to rush the passer, cover tight ends, and generally be disruptive. If he accomplishes that and keeps growing as the kind of leader this team values, it’s very likely they’ll make bringing him back a priority. You know, no pressure.
Unsurprisingly for Campbell, who has one of the team’s most entertaining social media presences and has expressed confidence in himself ever since the Falcons made him a fourth round pick out of Minnesota back in 2016, shakiness and shying away from the opportunity aren’t things he’s interested in entertaining.
“I love pressure,” Campbell said. “I feel like pressure does one or two things: You either get better from it or you fold. I don’t ever fold no matter what the situation is. I like being under pressure, it’s a good thing.”