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D. Orlando LedbetterD. Orlando Ledbetter

For grillmaster Paul Soliai, bonding over bar-b-cue is vital

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FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons defensive tackle/nose guard Paul Soliai, the team’s major acquisition this offseason, is attempting to anchor the defense on and off the field.

After Soliai became become comfortable in his new

Falcons defensive tackle/nose tackle Paul Soliai had his teammates over for bar-b-cue to foster a bond on and off the field. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

Falcons defensive tackle/nose tackle Paul Soliai had his teammates over for bar-b-cue to foster a bond on and off the field. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

surroundings, he invited the entire defensive lineman to his house for big bar-b-cue.

“I had my bar-b-cue chicken, cow peas and some short ribs,” said Soliai, who’s 6-foot-4 and 345 pounds. “All of the boys showed up and we got to talk more. We caught up and got to know each other. It was a good thing. It was something that I did in Miami. I had every rookie and all of the defensive line players over just to start creating that bond that we’ll need not only off the field, but on the field.”

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Soliai, a former Pro Bowler, signed a five-year, $33 million contract with the Falcons in March.

He’s the centerpiece of the Falcons’ plan to get bigger and stronger. With a man of his size leading the way, reclaiming the trenches should be much easier for the Falcons.

Last season, Soliai was rated as the 20th defensive tackle/nose tackle in the NFL by profootballfocus.com. He played 529 snaps and had 24 tackles, three quarterback hits, nine hurries, 19 stops and five batted passes.

Numbers don’t tell the entire story with Soliai, who with his size and agility, commands a double-team block on most plays. With teams practically forced to double-team him, the linebackers should have more clear paths to the football.

He’s been the focal point of the defensive front as the Falcons have been lining up in a 5-2 front and have either been staying with that look or shifting to a 3-4 with both ends standing up and turning into linebackers. Or, they’ve been keeping one of the ends down and sliding into a 4-3 front.

While they’ve run the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes over the past two seasons under coordinator Mike Nolan, Falcons coach Mike Smith has said they planned to be more multiple in 2014.

“We have been in a lot of different formations,” Soliai said. “It really hasn’t bothered us. I played in a lot of different formations when I was in Miami, 3-4 and 4-3. It’s all about us playing together and making big plays.”

The Falcons are really counting on Soliai to help improve the run defense. Opponents gained an average of 4.84 yards rushing on first down against the Falcons last season, worse than all but eight teams in the league. Overall, the Falcons gave up 4.78 yards per play, which ranked 31st in the league and they gave up 135. 8 yards per game, also 31st in the league.

“I think that’s our main goal,” Soliai said. “We can’t pass rush if we can’t stop the run. I’m very thankful that I’m here and Tyson (Jackson) is here. It’s not just going to be us two, it’s going to be all of us playing together and letting the linebackers make the play.”

Just three days into camp, Soliai senses that the bonding in the trenches is taking place.

“We have got to have each other’s back in the trenches,” Soliai said. “We need to know that I we can depend on each other. Now that we have that brotherhood bond, we have to put it together on the field.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Osi Umenyiora tells us where’s the pass rush going to come from

Dwight Lowery fitting in at free safety

Left tackle Sam Baker is off to strong start

Steven Jackson: “I kind of believed my own hype”

Roddy White not worried about his legacy, he wants Super Bowl rings

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE

Date                                                      Practice Times (public availability)

Monday, July 28                               Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Tuesday, July 29                               Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Wednesday, July 30                        Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

Thursday, July 31                              Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Friday, August 1                              “Friday Night Lights” at Archer High School (Lawrenceville)

                                                            6:45 – 9:10 p.m. (open to the public)

Saturday, August 2                          Practice 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. (open to the public)

Sunday, August 3                             Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Monday, August 4                           Combined Practice w/Tennessee  3-5:30 p.m.                                                (open to the public)

Tuesday, August 5                           Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

Wednesday, August 6                    Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Thursday, August 7                         Pregame Walkthrough (No Media Availability)

Friday, August 8                                Falcons vs. Miami Dolphins

                                                                Georgia Dome

                                                                7:00 p.m. ET – CW69

 Saturday, August 9                          Practice 4:30 – 5:45 p.m. (open to the public)

 Sunday, August 10                           Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

 Monday, August 11                         Practice 3:30 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public)

 Tuesday, August 12                         Practice 10:00 a.m. – 12:35 p.m. (open to the public)

 Wednesday, August 13                 Combined Practice w/ Houston Texans (Houston, TX)

Thursday, August 14                       Combined Practice w/ Houston Texans (Houston, TX)

Friday, August 15                             Pregame Walkthrough (No Media Availability)

Saturday, August 16                        Falcons at Houston Texans

                                                                NRG Stadium

                                                                8:00 p.m. ET – CW69

 Sunday, August 17                           Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

Monday, August 18                         Practice 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. (closed to the public)

                                                                Break Camp

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