And while the Atlanta offense performed at a high level all season, the defense, from front to back, needs reinforcements if the Falcons are to charge into the postseason with the weapons for a real run.
At defensive tackle, things are undecided right now. Should the team take a flyer on free agent Grady Jackson and hope for another fine season from the run-plugger, that's one option. But Jackson just turned 36, and at 6-2 and a listed 345 pounds (hmmm…), it's a lot to expect for major reps. At the very least, the team will require a rotation at the nose. Trey Lewis is the great unknown after a year on injured reserve, which means that the Falcons might look to take care of the position through the draft.
One intriguing name is Ron Brace, also known as the Boston College defensive tackle NOT named B.J. Raji. While his compadre saw his stock rise as Sedrick Ellis' had the year before, Brace had a solid week of practice in which he showed the ability to move his 6-3, 327-pound body around and plug that middle. As with most nose tackles, his stats won't blow you away, but there's a lot to like for a team like the Falcons, who just might be looking for a mid-round value to seal up that line.
Brace is currently in Atlanta training for the NFL Scouting Combine as he continues his quest to play in the NFL. After drawing a great deal of interest from coaches and scouts in Mobile, Alabama during Senior Bowl week, he's preparing for the next step.
Currently listed as the fifth-best defensive tackle in Scout.com's Draft Rankings, Brace is expected to be off the board during the second round, but certainly no later than the early portion of the third round.
Here's what he had to say on a variety of topics during an exclusive Scout.com interview with Ed Thompson.
Ed Thompson: Was there any aspect of the Senior Bowl experience that surprised you?
Ron Brace: I think one of the surprises for me was how much interviewing there was. The first few days I was exhausted just from all the talking (laughs).
Thompson: Were there two or three teams who stuck out the most to you based on who you got to meet or how they approached the interview process?
Brace: The Dallas Cowboys, and one other one that was with either the Chargers or the Panthers. I really enjoyed those conversations because they really had a conversation with me, those guys really seemed interested in me as a person.
Thompson: What do you think you did well during the game that will help boost your draft stock?
Brace: I think I showed teams that I hustle to the ball. Even though my game film has shown that through the years, some people seem to question me on that. I always hustle to the ball, I play whistle-to-whistle. I know that during one play in the first half I pursued the running back down the field, and it wasn't an easy task, but that's something I wanted to show people that I do during a game. In addition to that, I think I showed them that I'm really good against the run.
Thompson: Your squad was coached by the Bengals. As they observed the way you play defensive tackle, was there anything that they wanted you to do differently to play the position at the pro level? Or perhaps something that the Bengals specifically like to see their defensive lineman do?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Brace: During the Senior Bowl, we're only allowed to do certain types of formations and we're limited in how we can line up. In college, I was used to playing on the left side, so I was always in my right-handed stance. In Mobile, I had to be ambidextrous. I spent most of the week learning how to come out of a left-handed stance, which I've never done in college or high school. And they don't do certain things, like tilted nose, we're not allowed to do that during the Senior Bowl. But that's what the Cincinnati Bengals usually do, and that's what I've been taught to do while training down here in Atlanta, so it was kind of different getting used to coming straight out of a left-handed stance.
Thompson: After you got back from Mobile, did you have a chance to catch your breath or did you get right back into training?
Brace: We had a day for recovery, to get a massage, get the lactic acids out, do some stretching and rehab for any nicks that you may have gotten during the game. But now our regimen is back up to full speed.
Thompson: You've got the Combine coming up. How is the whole conditioning and nutrition regimen going?
Brace: It's actually going pretty well. I came down here on January 1 and weighed 342, and then I came into the Senior Bowl at 329--and that was after breakfast, so that was really good. They've shown me simple things like how to eat breakfast when you're going out--getting the food steamed rather than fried when it comes to things like hash browns, add a little onion in there, using no butter. Having wheat bread instead of white, egg whites instead of the yolks.
Thompson: Is 329 a good playing weight for you at the next level?
Brace: I'm comfortable at the weight I'm playing right now, and I feel I'm more productive at the weight I'm at right now. I'd like to be a little bit lighter so that I can be faster, but I don't want to lose so much weight that I lose my strength. I'd like to stay between the 320 to 325 range, but if teams want me between 325 to 330, I'll be able to do that with no problem.
Thompson: If I asked your friends or family about you, what do you think they would say about you as a person?
Brace: They'd probably say that I'm a really interesting person. I'm more of a spur-of-the-moment type of guy, but I also know when I have to get my business done. I work hard, but I also know how to have fun in moderation at times. I think they would basically say that I'm a really good person because I have a good heart.