Fresh start excites Abraham, Edwards

John Abraham usually doesn’t mind publicly critiquing his

teammates on the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive line.

Abraham made an exception last year. while Ray Edwards battled

injuries during their first season as teammates, Abraham kept

quiet.

Edwards is healthy and Abraham is talking.

”I think he was ready last year, but a lot of times your

physical being can slow you down,” Abraham said Monday. ”I think

mentally he is prepared and everyone else is mentally prepared to

have a good year.”

Now that Edwards is no longer bothered by a stiff knee, he and

Abraham believe they can become one of the NFL’s most feared pair

of defensive ends.

That was their plan last year after the NFL lockout ended and

Atlanta signed Edwards to a five-year, free-agent contract with $11

million guaranteed.

Unfortunately for Edwards, arthroscopic knee surgery hindered

his burst from the line of scrimmage, and opponents essentially

needed just one blocker to keep him away from the quarterback.

But with the season opener at Kansas City 13 days away, Edwards

has no health concerns. If he and Abraham stay healthy, Edwards

sees no reason why the Falcons can’t boast their first pair of

bookend pass rushers since Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith helped

Atlanta advance to the NFC title game in 2004.

”Absolutely,” Edwards said. ”We’re always trying to outdo

each other and outwork each other because at the end it’s going to

show on the game-day tape. That’s our plan with the whole front

four – who can do what and who can do their job the best.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Edwards endured more pain than

people knew about.

”It was a tough year for Ray last year in terms of injuries,”

Smith said. ”Some of them not well publicized, but he fought

through a lot. He showed a lot of resiliency.”

With the schemes designed by new defensive coordinator Mike

Nolan, the Falcons (No. 13 in the AP Pro 32) plan to use a variety

of pressures and blitz packages to keep opponents guessing.

Abraham, the NFL’s active career leader in sacks with 112, is

excited. He thought Atlanta was too predictable under former

coordinator Brian VanGorder.

”I don’t think I’ll be zeroed in on as much this year,”

Abraham said. ”They’re going to have to play football and they’re

going to have to look for more than just me. Our interior guys are

coming in there. We’ve got corners and linebackers and safeties

coming up. It’s going to be more of an 11-guy thing compared to one

or two.”

After earning his fourth Pro Bowl invitation in 2010, Abraham

struggled for long stretches of last season. He had two sacks in

the opening loss at Chicago and 3.5 in a Week 15 home blowout

victory over Jacksonville.

Abraham managed just four sacks in 13 other games. He also

missed a home loss to Green Bay with a hip injury.

When the season ended, Abraham filed for free agency. He talked

with Tennessee and Denver before deciding to return to the Falcons

for a three-year contract worth $16.72 million.

Though he ranks second on the franchise list with 58.5 career

sacks, Abraham believes his seven-year run with Atlanta has been

spotty because the Falcons have yet to win a playoff game since he

arrived in a trade with the New York Jets in 2006.

”It will be topped off the best if we go where I want to go,”

the 34-year-old Abraham said. ”That was my main reason for

staying, trying to do something good. The best option for me was to

stay here. If something real good happened, I would feel kind of

bad about it.”

Edwards still feels partly responsible that Atlanta ranked just

25th in sacks per passing attempt last year. Despite starting all

16 games, he finished with 3.5 sacks, his lowest total since his

rookie season of 2006 with Minnesota.

Edwards, 27, had 16.5 sacks in 30 games for the Vikings in

2009-10.

”It was very frustrating not being able to perform at the top

of my abilities,” Edwards said. ”I couldn’t go out there and do

my job as well as I know I can, and I was putting a lot of pressure

on myself with the new contract and things of that nature. Now I’m

just going back to having fun and being me.”

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