FLOWERY BRANCH — Lawrence Sidbury says he wants to learn how to be a great NFL pass rusher.
Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith says the rookie defensive end is picking the right mentor to help him reach that goal.
"The thing that I’ve been most impressed with Lawrence is he has gotten into the hip pocket of John Abraham and tried to stay with John as much as he can to try to learn from a great pass rusher in this league for a long, long time," Smith said Thursday.
Sidbury, a fourth-round draft pick from Richmond, had two sacks and took snaps with the first-team defense in Atlanta’s 20-13 win at St. Louis last week.
Smith said Sidbury will again be part of the Falcons’ rotation at defensive end in Saturday night’s preseason game against San Diego at the Georgia Dome.
No one with the Falcons is ready to say Sidbury is competing with Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis for the left defensive end spot opposite Abraham, but Smith said the rookie is on the right track.
"Lawrence definitely will have an opportunity as he becomes more comfortable with our scheme to compete for the other defensive end position," Smith said.
Abraham set a career high and team record with 16.5 sacks last season, but the Falcons are looking for another end who can put more pressure on quarterbacks.
Anderson, a first-round pick in 2007, had two sacks in 15 games last season.
Sidbury says he doesn’t want to be considered a pass-rush specialist.
"Along with the good plays also were some things I need to focus on and improve on to become a more complete player," he said Thursday. "You take the good as good, but the things that you need to work on are more important than the things that were highlights."
Sidbury said the two sacks against the Rams boosted his confidence.
"Anytime as a young player you can get on the field and you see some of the things you’ve been working on in camp work out for you, it’s definitely a confidence-builder," Sidbury said.
But Sidbury (6-3, 265) says Abraham has helped as he tries to build off the Rams game.
"He’s been a big help," Sidbury said. "Anytime I’ve had a question, he’s always had an answer. And even when I haven’t had a question, he’s come to me to say ‘You need to work on this’ or ‘You could have done this better.’ He’s always helping me see things.
"It’s like having a second set of eyes when I come off the field and he’s there to tell me about something I may not have seen. This is his 10th year, so he’s pretty much seen in all."
Smith wants to give his starters extended playing time on Saturday night, but Sidbury will join Abraham and other more experienced ends in the rotation with the first-team defense against the Chargers.
"We’re looking for guys who are rotational players," Smith said. "We like to consider that all the defensive linemen on our 40-man roster are going to participate in the game."
Anderson is listed as the Falcons’ probable starter at left defensive end against the Chargers. Davis started against the Rams.
Sidbury’s four sacks in Richmond’s Football Championship Subdivison championship game win over Montana last season are the most in a playoff game in NCAA history. He was named MVP of the game.
Smith said Sidbury also fared well when compared with major college players at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL combine.
"With Lawrence, the biggest trait we were impressed with was his speed," Smith said. "He was the fastest defensive lineman at the combine in the 40-yard dash, he was very explosive in the 10-yard, and he did not look out of place when we watched him at the Senior Bowl."
NOTES: Smith said backup defensive tackle Jason Jefferson had a "groin procedure" and will not play against the Chargers. Smith said backup defensive end Willie Evans also will be held out with a back problem. ... Rookie safety William Moore is returning from arthroscopic knee surgery and will play on special teams and in a backup role on defense.