FLOWERY BRANCH — Kroy Bierman could be John Abraham’s new pass-rush complement at defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons.
Bierman, a third-year player who was a surprise with five sacks last season, is in position for a more prominent role in 2010 with Jamaal Anderson working at defensive tackle and end in minicamp.
The Falcons tied for 26th in the NFL with only 28 sacks in 2009, according to STATS, LLC.
Bierman, a fifth-round pick from Montana in 2008, has seven sacks in his first two years.
“I think that Kroy has done a nice job, being a fifth-round draft pick, to have the production that he’s had his first two years,” coach Mike Smith said Saturday.
Bierman may be on the verge of winning a starting job, but he said he’s working like a rookie in minicamp.
“I still look at it the same,” Bierman said. “I got the opportunity when I first came here to make the team and that’s still what I’m trying to do.”
Abraham said Bierman has earned his opportunity.
“Bierman has matured a lot and he’s showing it on the field and he’s also showing it out here,” Abraham said. “He wants to play and he wants to be a starter. He’s kind of pushing everybody and he’s giving the coaches something to look at.”
Lawrence Sidbury, a second-year defensive end, also could win more playing time.
Anderson, the No. 8 overall pick in 2007, has only 21/2 sacks in 44 career starts, including one-half sack last season. He said he expects to spend more time at defensive tackle than at end.
Anderson’s continued struggles were accompanied by Abraham’s dropoff from his career-best 161/2 sacks in 2008 to only 51/2 last year. Abraham turned 32 on Thursday.
“It’s time for us to try to be the strength of the defense and not the weakness,” Abraham said. “Last year some people played better, but I don’t think everybody played up to their potential. I call myself out for that. But I don’t think it’s just one person on the D-line. I think everybody on the line has got to step up and play better.”
Abraham issued a challenge for Anderson.
“I think for him, and I’m not even trying to be like rude about it, I think you’ve got to play, you’ve got to get on the field,” Abraham said. “Everybody expects a lot from him and he’s got to step up.”
Abraham also challenged himself.
“Even for me, if I come up with another 51/2-sacks year, they’re gonna be like ‘He says he’s still good but it’s not showing up,”’ he said. “So you’ve got to do something to keep yourself on the field.”
Abraham said he worried after the 2009 season about his drop in sacks.
“I watched myself on tape,” he said. “I was thinking maybe I’m losing something, so let me check. So I sat down and watched tape. I think I’m playing at my potential so I still think I’m a valuable player for this team.
“I didn’t play bad last year. When I watched the tape, I didn’t feel like I lost a step or played bad.”
Anderson said he can’t argue with the team giving the undersized but aggressive Bierman (6-3, 260) a chance to boost the pass rush.
“I understand he made a lot of plays last year and we’ve got to have some way to put him in,” Anderson said. “If it means me moving inside, I have no problem doing that. I’m just trying to help this team win and moving doesn’t really matter.”
The 6-foot-6 Anderson said he gained 15 pounds, from 275 to 290, for the new swing role. He saw limited snaps inside last season.
“This is the first time that they’ve really taken the step to make me more inside than outside and I feel pretty comfortable right now,” Anderson said. “I think I got great experience playing inside last year. I’m just continuing to grow at this position and hopefully I can be a valuable asset to this team.”
General manager Thomas Dimitroff said two young defensive tackles — 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry and this year’s third-round pick, Corey Peters — can help the outside rush by providing more pressure inside. Jerry is not participating in the minicamp after missing most of his rookie season because of a knee injury.
“We feel very strongly about our young guys,” Dimitroff said after the draft. “We want to continue to develop Lawrence Sidbury.
Obviously Kroy Bierman is a guy who can give us legitimate pressure. We truly believe as an organization that John Abraham still has the ability to get up the field and around the corner.”