Vivlamore reporting from Falcons training camp.
FLOWERY BRANCH — If there is pressure on Lawrence Sidbury to take another step forward in his development, he is not letting on.
The Falcons defensive end is entering his fourth season, the final of his $2.28 million rookie contract, and can be a free agent after the year. He continues to fight for playing time, along with newly re-signed Kroy Biermann, behind John Abraham and Ray Edwards. Sidbury also faces a challenge from the likes of rookie Jonathan Massaquoi, a fifth-round draft pick, in his attempt at a bigger role in the Falcons defense.
“There is pressure every year,” Sidbury said after a recent training camp practice. “You have to come out and perform your best. That’s how anybody should take it every year no matter what year it is, one, two, three or 15. The pressure is to be great, every day in practice and when they games come.”
Sidbury had his best season last year. He played in all 16 games with nine tackles and two assists. He tied for the second on the team with four sacks, including a two in a game against the Vikings.
It was a big step forward considering his sophomore season. After playing in all 16 games as a rookie, with four tackles and one sack, Sidbury was relegated to a spectator for most of 2010. He played in just six games and was inactive for eight of the last nine games and each of the last six.
“I don’t really want to go back on that,” Sidbury said. “We are going to leave the past in the past. My third year I did a little bit to help the team out some. We are just not going to worry about what happened in the past so I can focus on this year, 2012, and doing whatever I can to help my team win this year.”
What happened to change the course of his career? According to defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, Sidbury matured. He is finally grasping the defensive system which comes with experience. But there have also been those light-bulb moments when after doing things over and over again, incorrectly, it finally clicked.
“I see some more speed, some more maturity,” Hamilton said. “He looks like he’s grasping the techniques and the system better this year. I’ve tried to get him to be more reckless over the years and now he is being that. He’s using his spin move. He is coming off with more speed. He’s using his hands more. I think, overall, he is a better player now than what he was.”
Sidbury (6-foot-3, 261 pounds) was a fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Richmond in 2009. Hamilton added that coming from a small college program it was at times overwhelming to learn a professional defense while playing special teams, a rarity for a defensive end.
Sidbury is currently listed behind Abraham at right end on the Falcons’ depth chart going into Thursday’s exhibition opener against the Ravens. However, he’ll play both sides. Sidbury, along with Biermann and Abraham, will often start from a standing position in a new wrinkle designed to take advantage of their speed. He will get a significant amount of playing time as coaches get their first real chance to sort out position battles.
“Without a doubt,” Hamilton said when asked if this was indeed a big year for Sidbury. “He played pretty decent last year. We have competition all the time and he’s right in the middle of it.”
Sidbury spent most of his offseason in Atlanta working in weight room. He added all the Organized Team Activities and minicamps, working on his technique and learning those nuances of the new defensive scheme.
“You want to get better every year,” Sidbury said. “I’ve been working my butt off all summer long in the offseason program and getting our playbook down. That way I can be more productive than I was last year.”
There is a personal goal Sidbury has in mind for the upcoming season – but he’s not sharing.
“I got a goal but I’m not going to let you put it in print,” he said. “I do set very high goals for myself and I’m working hard every day in order to make those goals come to fruition.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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