Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith isn’t expecting rookie pass-rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone to be All-Pro talents Week 1. He is, however, looking for progress in all aspects of their game.
Ebiketie, a second-round pick out of Penn State, along with Malone, the Falcons’ third-round pick out of Western Kentucky, are viewed as long-term pieces in the team’s rebuild. Neither found immense success Friday in the team’s 27-23 preseason win over the Detroit Lions, but both are still adjusting to the speed of the pros.
Smith understands that pass-rushers will take time to get acclimated to their new roles at the next level. One of the biggest training tools in his mind would be how a player responds from a bad outing.
That’s the test for both Ebiketie and Malone entering Week 2 of the preseason.
“Very pleased with the effort of a lot of those young outside linebackers, our rush players,” Smith said. “I thought Jalen Dalton did a nice job, (Ebiketie), DeAngelo, Quinton (Bell). We'll just continue to try to improve these guys and continue to work, but I'm pleased with what AK did."
Ebiketie struggled on the opening drive against the run but rebounded to have a strong day pressuring the quarterback. He recorded just one tackle, but also tallied three pressures and a quarterback hit on three drives.
Malone, who likely will be utilized as a situational pass-rusher and special teams standout, was a tad more productive in terms of tackling. He tallied three total stops, including one on Lions running back Maurice Alexander behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of a yard.
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In college, Malone primarily was asked to only blitz in coach Tyson Helton’s 3-4 defensive approach. Under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees, Malone will have to play more in space and on coverage reps. In Friday's win, all three of his tackles were on passing downs, two of which came in the open field.
Smith said he appreciates Malone’s attention to detail in the film room and willingness to take constructive criticism to better his game.
“Some of the jobs we're asking him to do, they're foreign to him; that's why I don't make snap judgments,” Smith said. “I've got a lot of faith in DeAngelo."
Both Ebiketie and Malone could be cornerstones in Atlanta’s defense past the 2022 season if they live up to expectations. Last fall, the Falcons recorded a league-low 18 sacks, with veteran Dante Fowler Jr. leading the charge with 4.5 takedowns.
Fowler is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta’s biggest move to upgrade the position this offseason was adding New York Giants outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter on a one-year deal. Carter, who played his college ball at Georgia, is coming off a career season with six tackles for loss and five sacks.
For now, Carter will likely be starting opposite Ebiketie or third-year pro Quinton Bell. Time will tell if Malone carves out a more prominent role for himself, but Smith feels as if he's on the right track.
The Falcons could see better results from their young pass-rushing duo Monday against the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium.