FLOWERY BRANCH – Defensive tackle Vance Walker is one of the unsung heroes of the Falcons defensive line.
The former Georgia Tech standout, who made the team after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, was a major contributor while playing 51.9 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season.
Walker has been ready whenever the Falcons have called. He played 84 percent ( 48 of 57) of the snaps against Tampa Bay on Nov. 25 and 80 percent (39 of 49) against Washington on Oct. 7.
He had a low of 26 percent (15 of 58) of the snaps against Arizona on Nov. 18.
“He’s done a very nice job for us in the rotation,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said on Friday. “I think he’s probably been our most productive defensive tackle in terms of pass rush this year statistically. He’s a very good anchor point. He has a very good understanding of what we are trying to do and he understands his role in the rotation.”
Walker has three sacks, 32 tackles and a forced fumble. He splits time with Corey Peters, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux.
“(In evaluating) a defensive tackle, you have to really watch the film,” Smith said. “You don’t necessarily look at the stat sheet. They do a lot of dirty work in terms of taking on multiple blockers on most plays.”
Walker is ready to contribute in the playoffs.
“It’s very exciting,” Walker said. “For the most part, we’ve got to have a lot of focus. Being here for the last three years and playing in the past two playoffs games, unfortunately, we didn’t make it to where we wanted to be. We’ve learned a lot from that and it’s going to take great focus. It’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
While Walker has had a strong campaign, he believes he can contribute more.
“I’m not content with anything,” said Walker, who started eight games this season. “But at the same time I want to be better than what I was last year and at the end of the day, I want to help the team win a championship and win that ring.”
He was used much more sparingly under former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. He had just two starts before this season and his previous high for tackles was 18 in 2011.
“Now, is not really the time to look back on my accomplishments,” Walker said. “We are still playing. As long as I can keep playing and helping out my team, that’s the best thing that I can do.”
He doesn’t mind doing the interior dirty work.
“There are a lot of plays like that, whether if it’s myself, Corey, Babs or Peria; where we get in the face of the quarterback or we hit him right before he throws,” Walker said. “Sometimes it leads to an interception or a bad pass. A lot of those things are effective.”
Babineaux, who has 3.5 sacks, credits Walker for being a disruptive force inside.
“Vance has been doing pretty good,” Babineaux said. “He’s coming along from last year to this year. That’s what we needed. We needed a lot more from him. . . he has grown a lot since last year.”
It’s usually hard to get sacks from the defensive tackle position, but Walker would like to have more.
“We like to have much better sack numbers, but all we can do is keep working hard and just strive for excellence,” Walker said. “It’s something that we’ve got to keep working on. For the most part, we are affecting the quarterback, but we just have to get him down.”
Walker’s strategy in the trenches is simple.
“As far as defensive linemen, it’s all about being physical,” Walker said. “We have to play stronger than the other guy. That’s pretty much the bare bones of it since Pee Wee (football). We just got to line up and beat the other guy.”
Walker is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season and would like to return to the Falcons.
“I’ve definitely played the hand that I was dealt,” Walker said. “I’ve done the best that I could have with what I was given. I have no regrets about it. I’m happy to be here in Atlanta. Everything that God has put forth for me has worked out. I’m not taking anything for granted, first and foremost is the Super Bowl ring.”
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