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Getting slimmer by the day, free agent pickup Dontari Poe hopes to enhance Falcons' pass rush
Former Chiefs nose tackle hopes to reach playing weight of 330 pounds
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Falcons defensive lineman Dontari Poe (92) drinks water before starting a drill during the summer minicamp in Flowery Branch on Tuesday. - photo by David Barnes

Dontari Poe was still sweating through the black hoodie underneath his red practice jersey as he spoke to reporters Tuesday.

Naturally, they wanted to know if the Atlanta Falcons’ new defensive tackle had qualified for his reportedly $125,000 bonus for weighing in at 340 pounds or less on the first day of mandatory minicamp. When pressed on the matter, Poe flashed a coy grin and repeated the same phrase as part of three separate responses.

“I’m where I need to be,” he said.

And the Falcons are happy he’s there.

Poe opened his first minicamp in Flowery Branch one step closer to his stated goal of playing at 330 pounds and $125,000 richer. After being listed at 346 pounds for his entire five-year stint in Kansas City, he reportedly has three more weight-related bonuses of equal value built into his one-year, $8 million deal.

The former first-round draft pick earned two Pro Bowl nods as a space-eating nose tackle for the Chiefs, but Atlanta coach Dan Quinn envisions Poe playing some three-technique as well and factoring more into the pass rush.

So the 26-year-old began shedding pounds in hopes to effectively fill his new role, but that doesn’t mean he’ll no longer be able to bully opposing offensive linemen.

“We’re pleased about where he’s at weight-wise, workout-wise,” Quinn said. “We’ve got some strong men, and he’s one of them. Going through some of the strength tests, Dontari has certainly been a guy who has impressed us in that way.”

On top of collecting his first weight-related bonus, Poe appears to be settling into his new surroundings. The Falcons’ splashiest offseason acquisition now has seven days of organized team activities under his belt and will participate in the second of three minicamp practices today.

The 6-foot-3 Poe said the transition to his second NFL team has been a smooth one with no surprises.

“I’m just getting down the basics of the defense and the team, getting to be a part of the brotherhood,” he said. “I’m just going out here and playing. (Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young) know what they like to do.

“I’m following their lead and doing what I have to do for the Falcons.”

That will include generating a pass rush in tandem with a core of young but talented players — linebacker/defensive end Vic Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and defensive end Takk McKinley.

Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks last year, Jarrett tied a Super Bowl record with three of his own and the Falcons spent their top draft pick on McKinley despite the speedy UCLA product undergoing shoulder surgery in March. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who was second on the team with 4.5 sacks in just 13 games last year, is also set to return from a torn biceps.

Poe seems especially excited to work alongside Jarrett, who has been showing his fellow defensive tackle the ropes in Atlanta.

“The sky’s the limit for us; I’m just going to keep it right there,” Poe said. “Grady took me in when I came in and helped me out a lot. If there were any questions I had, he helped me. We’ll see (how we look) come this season.”

Quinn, a former defensive lineman who has spent the majority of his coaching career overseeing that position group, is just as excited about what his interior duo can accomplish.

“The connection that takes place among two guys that play next to each other, it’s an important one,” Quinn said. “ … The run tips, the pass tips. You feed off that energy from one another. Grady brings the juice, and Dontari has been an excellent addition so far.”

Poe adds 201 tackles, 13 sacks and two forced fumbles in his five-year career to a Falcons defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season. Atlanta also hopes he can display versatility in the form of pass-rushing prowess after spending several seasons exclusively eating up blockers and stuffing runs.

Even if it means Poe has to drop a few pounds to make that vision a reality.

“I got dinner for me — it’s a slim dinner,” Poe said, drawing laughs from the crowd of reporters. “I’ll be eating a little healthy food.”

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