FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora met with coach Mike Smith about Umenyiora’s new reserve role. Nolan implied Umenyiora was content with the move.
"As I’m sure Mike told you, he had a conversation with Mike and it went very well, was my understanding," Nolan said. "And Osi expressed the same thing, that it went real well."
Umenyiora, 32, started the first 13 games this season. But in last Sunday’s 27-26 win over the Washington Redskins, he played just 27 snaps in a reserve role as a designated pass-rusher. Second-year player Jonathan Massaquoi started at Umenyiora’s usual spot at right defensive end. Smith said he wanted to keep Umenyiora on a "pitch count" to keep him fresh as a pass-rusher, a strategy similar to the one the team used with veteran John Abraham before Abraham moved on to Arizona.
Despite his limited playing time, Umenyiora still managed a sack and a forced fumble against the Redskins.
"I thought he did an outstanding job in the game when he did go in," Nolan said of Umenyiora. "He was fresher. He was better prepared for the third down because of that. You know, when you play every down, it can wear on you.
"Whatever’s best for them to perform at the highest level is what you want to do, and I think that did help him perform at a high level. I mean, he got the only sack we had in the game. It was a sack-fumble as a matter of fact, and we a got a touchdown out of it … the offense did."
Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal in the offseason, and his cap figure for next season is $4.75 million. He obviously wants to be a starter, but the Falcons seem to be looking to get younger along the defensive line. The coaches could, however, change up the lineup once again when the Falcons travel to San Francisco for a "Monday Night Football" matchup with the 49ers.
Although Umenyiora leads the team with 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, his value extends beyond statistics.
"I think he’s been a real asset," Nolan said. "What I like about Osi is he’s done a good job on the field, but he’s also done an outstanding job off the field. And that’s been very helpful for our football team.
"A lot of guys have benefited from his presence. I wouldn't say he’s Mister Go-Around Vocal, tell guys what to do at all. But I think when a young guy wants to know or wants to watch somebody who’s a pro and who shows respect and gets a lot of respect, Osi would be the guy to look at."