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
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.”
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
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
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
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)