Many Falcons fans may have been surprised that Dimitroff, Coach Smith, & Co. decided to let Big Grady Jackson walk into free agency without even so much as a hint of resigning him. Granted, Jackson is surely on the downside of his career and was a liability in pass rushing downs, endurance, and health issues. But he was a great space eater in run defense on a team that needed help against the run in the worst way. The Falcons defense certainly had its ups and downs throughout the year, but no issue was more glaring than the porous run defense. Atlanta ranked 25th out of 32 teams in defending the run, besting only Green Bay, Denver, Cleveland, St.Louis, Kansas City, Oakland, and Detroit. Not good company. The defense gave up over 2,000 yards rushing to opposing teams, averaging an abysmal 127 yards per game. Falcons run D also hemorrhaged 16 runs for more than 20 yards, with the longest being a 68 yarder. Another blemish had the defense tied for 27th on giving up the most first downs on rushing attempts by opposing teams. Even though the pass defense may not have been much better, it’s easy to point to the biggest weakness on the team overall.
The decision to let Grady walk opened a huge hole in a defense ranked near the bottom in defending the run.Thomas Dimitroff quickly addressed the big weakness with the first pick in the draft, taking Peria Jerry after he fell all the way to the Falcons at #24. Easily rated the best defensive tackle in the draft behind BJ Raji, the decision was a no-brainer combining the mantras of best player available as well as needs-based drafting. Jerry instantly upgraded not only a very leaky run defense, but also a very thin one as well. The accolades are far and wide for Jerry, but helping his team rank 4th nationally in run defense playing in the SEC, ranking second nationally among defensive tackles with 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and registering 7 sacks his senior year are great stats to bring to a run defense desperately in need of help. Besides all the lofty stats that Jerry brings, the biggest praise he receives refers to his amazing work ethic and non-stop motor; traits that can’t be taught. He earns effusive praise as well being a mature player ready to step into the rigors of the NFL at the age of 25.
With Peria Jerry being a first round pick and an all-world defensive tackle coming into a needy run defense, he’s a lock to start alongside Jonathan Babineaux when the Falcons suit up in the Georgia Dome, right? Trey Lewis will have something to say about Jerry’s starting coronation. Trey Lewis may often be left out of the defensive tackle conversation altogether after suffering two knee injuries in a year and half. Before his first injury in the 2007 season, Lewis rocketed to an awesome start, making every stride to lock down the starters spot for good in his rookie year. Lewis competed in nine games while making five starts in his rookie season. He totaled 23 tackles while adding one interception and one pass defensed. His size (6′3, 323) and mobility are what coaching staffs drool over, with the ability to play in a traditional 4-3 defense, or slide over and be a perfect fit at nose tackle in the 3-4 defense. He may be thought of as a younger, quicker, and more agile version of Grady Jackson that can stuff the run, eat space, and rush the passer. All indications are that Lewis is close to being back to full strength, if he’s not already there.
The competition looks to be one of the most intense of training camp as most everyone assumes that Jerry will win that starting job simply because he was a first round draft pick, who as of yet remains unsigned. Playing devil’s advocate, pairing Jerry (299 lbs) with Babineaux (284 lbs) certainly would give us one of the lighter DT tandems in the league and could run up against some problems with road grading guards combined with some brute force fullbacks. The light load certainly might make it more difficult for Lofton at MLB, having OL or FB’s in his face all game. Trey Lewis at least could be that big body to free up Lofton. Lewis has all the tools, potential, and showed it during the game, but that was almost two years ago.
Can Jerry and Lewis kick the injury bug?
This question has the potential to drive Falcons fans crazy as we approach training camp. We will all be on pins and needles, frantically scanning injury reports to make sure one of our two promising defensive tackles doesn’t fall to the field with an injury. You could say the same about every player, but Jerry and Lewis have a serious history of the injury bug. Even though Jerry was a consensus top defensive tackle in the draft, the big knock on him was his issues with injuries, particularly his senior year. (Missed the first four games of his freshman season with an injury, hampered by a foot injury in 2006 that eventually required some offseason surgery. Underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee in August of 2008). Unfortunately, Jerry didn’t put that myth to rest when he tweaked his knee in one of the first sessions in mini-camp.
The injury history on Trey Lewis is surely well-documented with not participating in a live snap since November of 2007. Lewis suffered an original injury on the field for the Falcons in ‘07, but it certainly was compounded when he re-injured himself for the second time. For a Falcon fan base worrisome about one of the worst run defenses in the NFL in 2008, it clearly will give a lot of sleepless nights with so much potential wrapped in two players with injury concern.
1) Glad to let Big Grady go?
2) Pick Now: who will start down number 1 DT against the Dolphins on Sept. 12th?
3) Was Peria Jerry the right pick for the Falcons at #24 in the draft?
4) Does Trey Lewis size give him a huge advantage to starting?
Next Topic Preview: Training Camp Special Edition
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