FLOWERY BRANCH — It took Jamaal Anderson, the NFL’s No. 8 overall draft pick last year, 22 games to get his first career sack for the Atlanta Falcons.
With the help of first-year defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, Anderson doubts his second sack will take nearly as long.
“He’s taught me so much, and we’re only six games into the season,” Anderson said Thursday. “It’s exciting to think we’ve got so much football left this season.”
The Falcons (4-2) return from a bye this weekend with a visit to Philadelphia (3-3).
Anderson credits Hamilton, who left Jacksonville to join coach Mike Smith’s new staff in Atlanta, with giving the Falcons a new approach in the one-gap schemes deployed by coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Hamilton’s success as a former player and longtime NFL assistant brought credibility to a defense that lacked self-respect during the 4-12 meltdown of 2007.
Known affectionately as “Sugar Bear” when he manned the line for New England from 1973-81, Hamilton started 110 consecutive games and recorded 54 career sacks with the Patriots.
“We love it because he brought all his (football trading) cards with him,” Anderson said. “We tease him and all, but it does show that he has a real passion for the game.”
The 6-foot-8, 282-pound Anderson works an extra few minutes before each practice with Hamilton, who has shown him the benefit of keeping his hands extended against offensive tackles.
“The tackles, like me, have long arms, so I’m able to keep them at bay, and they’re easier to shed and get me to the play,” Anderson said.
“That’s made a big difference in everything I do.”
Hamilton also proved to have good listening skills, apparently agreeing two weeks ago that the players could change their footwork when lining up opposite tight ends.
“It was a concern to some of us because we couldn’t see what was going on (after the snap),” Anderson said.
“We did it against Chicago, and that’s probably the best we’ve played on the tight end this season. We had our outside foot back, and we switched it and put our inside foot back for better leverage.”
When Anderson sacked Kyle Orton two weeks ago at the Georgia Dome, no one seemed happier than teammate John Abraham, who ranks third among active NFL players with 74.5 sacks since the start of 2000.
Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, playfully pinned him face-down on the turf, though Anderson did revel briefly with two quick push-ups to acknowledge the end of a long wait.
“I had another celebration in mind, but they took me down too fast,” Anderson said Thursday.
“I just did a little improv thing, which worked out better because it’s not like I wanted to make a big deal out of it.”
Smith, who worked the last five years as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator, has praised Anderson’s work ethic since the new staff arrived.
Once they realized that Anderson had the range and durability necessary, the coaches began using him as a tackle in three-man fronts between Abraham and either Chauncey Davis or Kroy Biermann.
As far as Smith and the new staff are concerned, Anderson’s sack totals mean nothing compared to a broader picture of skills development.
“For him, it probably is a weight off his shoulders, but with us as a coaching staff what’s important is that he has really progressed, I think, exponentially through the season,” Smith said.
“He’s gotten better and better each week, and that’s all you can ask for is a guy to continue and continue to improve.”
Notes: Rookie Sam Baker, who starts at left tackle, missed practice with a hip injury. ... Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee), fullback Ovie Mughelli (hamstring) and reserve defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead (ankle) were on the field in a limited capacity. ... Reserve receiver Laurent Robinson (knee) practiced for the second straight day and appears ready to play his first game since Week 3.