Freeney brings unmatched wisdom to Falcons frontline

Photo by: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

A quarterback sack: one of the most impactful plays in American football. Not only does it lessen the chances of an opposing offense moving the ball down the field and scoring, but it is a momentum building play for the defense and a demoralizing result for the offense. Since 2002, few have thwarted offensive drives and broken quarterbacks’ spirits more than sack-master Dwight Freeney. Upon entering the 2016 season, only three active defensive ends have racked up more sacks than the now 36-year-old’s 119.5.

Freeney’s resume adds authority to the Falcons defense. Entering his 15th season in the NFL, Freeney ranks 19th all-time in sacks, has earned seven Pro Bowl appearances (03-05, 08-11), three First Team All-Pro selections (04-05, 09), led the NFL in sacks in 2004 (16), won AFC Defensive Player of the Year (05) and the coup de grace, won Super Bowl XLI in 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Teacher and the student

Freeney signed a one-year deal on Aug. 2 to not only bolster Atlanta’s defensive line but to groom the Falcons young pass rushers. Vic Beasley Jr. was 10 years old when Freeney entered the NFL in 2002 out of Syracuse as the 11th overall pick. Right away, Freeney made an electrifying impact, recording 13 sacks while starting in just eight games. During his 11 seasons in Indianapolis, he totaled 107.5 sacks and 258 tackles.

The Atlanta brass hopes that the Connecticut-native can work with and teach another Georgia born blitzer in Beasley much like he did when he teamed up with McNair High School’s Robert Mathis, the two collecting 186 sacks in their 10 years together with the Colts.

Aging with grace

There won’t be a decade of dominance between Freeney and Beasley, but the savvy veteran can at least steer the second-year pro and the rest of Atlanta’s defensive line in the right direction. Appearing in just 11 games last season in Arizona, Freeney still managed to get to the quarterback eight times and forced three fumbles- both would be Falcon team-highs in 2015.

Freeney’s leadership and the respect he holds around the League is an ingredient Atlanta has looked for on the defensive side of the ball. Not many teams can claim a future Hall of Famer as their own like the Falcons are able to with the addition of Freeney. While he still has enough gas left in the tank to make an impact on the field, his greatest influence may be his guidance off the field, between games and practices for a young and talented defense.

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