FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Vic Beasley heard the grumbling. He was a wasted pick in the first round. He wasn’t going to be able to play every down in the NFL.
No one’s talking that way anymore.
Beasley has made a huge leap in his second season with Atlanta, giving the Falcons something they haven’t had in years: a fearsome pass rusher.
He already has 10.5 sacks, ranking No. 2 in the league behind Denver’s Von Miller. It’s the most sacks by a Falcons player since John Abraham had 13 in 2010.
Beasley wants more.
“I’m not satisfied,” he said this week, standing at his locker before practice. “There’s more out there for me. I feel like I’m just now grasping my potential.”
Beasley started every game as a rookie but hardly had the sort of impact the Falcons (7-5) were expecting when they drafted him No. 8 overall.
At 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, he was caught in between — a bit too small to be a traditional defensive end, a bit too large to play outside linebacker. Some projected him as merely a situational player, coming in on obvious passing downs with the single-minded objective to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Falcons, who are tied for first in the NFC South heading into Sunday’s game at Los Angeles against the Rams, thought he could be more. Coach Dan Quinn saw a hybrid player who would fit as an outside linebacker in the base defense, or was capable of lining up as a defensive end in the nickel package.
It didn’t happen right away. As a rookie, Beasley managed only four sacks on a team that had just 19 overall.
“You’ve got to understand that you’re brought here for a reason,” he said. “I didn’t want to let one year get me down.”
Still, the criticism weighed on him. Beasley returned for Year 2 with a new drive and focus.
Quinn noticed the change.
“It’s the work ethic that, honestly, he came back with that set him off in terms of, ‘I want to go for it,’” the coach said. “Those are the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Beasley is more than just a pass rusher.
“As an undersized D-end, he’s doing a good job in the run game,” Quinn said. “He’s light, but he’s strong. He’s able to get his hands on guys and he can shed tight ends.”
It also helped that the Falcons brought in 15-year veteran Dwight Freeney, who has served as a mentor to Beasley and other young players on a defense that has started as many as four rookies.
“He’s shown an eagerness to learn,” Freeney said of Beasley. “Mentally, his football IQ is starting to grow, which tends to happen from a first-year to a second-year player. He’s starting to realize more. I try to help him out wherever I can.”
Beasley’s first step is the thing that sets him apart. He’s so quick off the edge, it’s difficult for someone to block him alone. Offenses usually have to assign an extra blocker, or at least hope the tight end can get a bit a piece of Beasley to slow him down.
“I come off the ball pretty well,” he said. “Some things they can teach you. Some things are just God-given.”
After recording only one sack in the first four games, Beasley had a breakout performance at Denver with 3.5 sacks — nearly matching the total for his entire career to that point.
Since then, he’s had two more multi-sack games.
Yep, the Falcons do have a pass rusher.
“He’s in a good place,” Quinn said. “Mentally with his game, in his preparation, in his routine, he’s really locked in.”
Notes: The Falcons announced a four-year contract extension for CB Robert Alford. Quinn said the team wants to work out a similar deal with its best corner, Desmond Trufant, who is out for the year with a pectoral injury. “Tru totally embodies all the things we’re looking for,” the coach said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll be with it for the long term as well.” … WR Julio Jones (turf toe), OT Jake Mattews (knee) and WR Mohamed Sanu (groin) missed another day of practice. Quinn said Jones would do some light drills and hoped to get limited reps on Friday.