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'Tremendous' Troy: Falcons Rookie LB Andersen 'Trending' to Starting Role

"We're happy - the kid's doing a tremendous job. He's a big, talented individual, but his smarts and instincts are starting to show up," Atlanta Falcons inside linebackers coach Frank Bush said of second-round rookie linebacker Troy Andersen.

The Atlanta Falcons had a new rookie starter last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints ... and it wasn't just quarterback Desmond Ridder.

Inside linebacker Troy Andersen drew his second career start in Atlanta's 21-18 loss, but it was the first time he received the nod out of choice, not injury necessity.

Andersen, a second-round pick out of Montana State, played 82 percent of the defensive snaps Sunday, his second-most of the season. The change arose after Falcons coach Arthur Smith declared changes would be made following the team's bye week, and while many assumed that meant Ridder would get his chance, it evidently applied to Andersen as well.

Andersen finished with seven tackles against New Orleans, though he was attacked early in zone coverage and was drug for a first down by Saints fullback Adam Prentice on third and short.

Nonetheless, coach Arthur Smith feels as if Andersen's made big strides during his rookie campaign and is optimistic in the traits he's seen from the 6-4, 235-pound linebacker.

"He's made a lot of progress as the season's gone on," Smith said. "Getting more comfortable. He's a smart, instinctive player. He's a heavy-handed guy."

Smith added that the Falcons were "hurt" on some of the things New Orleans did on the perimeter, saying "we weren't sound" in regard to gap discipline. Moreover, Atlanta's second-year coach stressed that the Falcons have multiple starters at linebacker with no clear face emerging.

Inside linebackers coach Frank Bush sent a similar message, voicing his confidence in Atlanta's trio of Andersen, Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker.

"This was an opportunity for (Andersen) to be the first guy out of the tunnel," Bush said. "I guess you could call it a starter, but we have packages, so at any moment, all three of those kids are out there at the same time. But this was a chance for him to go out with the first unit and run the first couple plays."

Thus, Andersen isn't officially a starter, even though he's listed as one on the Falcons' newly released depth chart. But lost in the line of starter vs. rotational player is that Andersen is significantly improved from where he was at the start of the season - a loss to the Saints in which he failed to play a defensive snap.

Receiving the start and playing 45 snaps in the second meeting between Atlanta and New Orleans serves as a prime juxtaposition of how much Andersen's grown and the increased confidence the Falcons have in his skill set ... which is being shown more and more each week.

"We like what Troy's been doing," Bush said. "He's been trending for a long time. He's played in lots of games for us, he's made plays for us. We're happy - the kid's doing a tremendous job. He's a big, talented individual, but his smarts and instincts are starting to show up. He's hitting people and knocking them on the ground better than he did earlier in the season. I think he's just more comfortable being a pro athlete right now, so (I'm) happy with where he is."

Smith, Bush and the rest of Atlanta's staff have been raving about Andersen's intelligence since he arrived for rookie minicamp, while also acknowledging that the running back turned quarterback turned linebacker faced a steep learning curve.

And thus, the Falcons knew there would be growing pains, but were also well aware that Andersen's immense upside was worth the wait.

It's for this reason that the 23-year-old's role has steadily grown throughout the season, following a similar trajectory of safety Richie Grant, a second-round pick in 2021 who failed to start a game as a rookie but has played all but five of Atlanta's defensive snaps across the entire season.

The idea is to ease the talented defenders into the flow of the game while also getting them much-needed experience, hoping to prepare them for the following year ... and by all accounts, Andersen's rookie season has checked the biggest boxes.

"The kid is smart, but you have to get out and play," said Bush. "There are things that happen in a pro football game that I can't even begin to describe. He's just got to go out and live that and get the experience, and since he's done that, he's starting to understand how people attack him, how they attack the defense, and where he fits within the big piece of the big puzzle. He's doing a good job of relishing the role and being productive for us."

While it hasn't been without flaws, Andersen's learning ... and playing his way into being an individual big piece of the big puzzle.

With three games still to play, Andersen looks set to finish his rookie season on a high, setting the stage for a "tremendous" second season in the middle of Atlanta's defense.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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