Originally created 08/07/02

Kerney moving back to defensive end



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The Atlanta Falcons have given up on the idea of moving Patrick Kerney to linebacker.

Kerney, who led the team with 12 sacks last season, was back at end Tuesday in the Falcons' new 3-4 defensive scheme.

"I'm comfortable," he said. "It's like riding a bike being back in that three-point stance."

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said the depth at linebacker prompted him to make the change. The Falcons have promoted rookie Will Overstreet to the first team at the weakside position, while Matt Stewart appears to have the inside track at strongside linebacker.

Also, Phillips wanted Kerney to focus on what he does best - rushing the quarterback. As a linebacker, he would have been forced to worry about dropping into pass coverages.

"He could have played it, and he would have done well," Phillips said. "He was only dropping back 25 percent of the time, but that's 25 percent too much for your best defensive lineman. We need him rushing the passer every time. There's no way to do that at outside linebacker."

Kerney, who had only five sacks in his first two seasons, ranked fifth in the NFC last year with 12 sacks, the most by a Falcon since Chuck Smith had the same in 1997.

When Phillips came in during the offseason and switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4, he thought the best spot for Kerney was outside linebacker.

Kerney lost a few pounds, worked on his speed and struggled to learn pass coverages and the upright, two-point stance. He admitted to some uncomfortable moments, not surprising since he last played linebacker in high school.

Now, Kerney is back at the position he knows best.

"This keeps me from ever having to worry about dropping back," he said. "Anytime they go back to pass, I'm going toward the quarterback."

When Phillips first mentioned the change last week, Kerney's main concern was his weight. He has slimmed down to about 270 pounds, a bit undersized for someone who'll often face double-teams on a three-man defensive front.

After getting some work at end, he's not so worried.

"I thought I would need to bulk up a ton more," said Kerney, who figures he needs to add only 5 to 8 pounds. "As much as we're moving, I won't need to bulk up."

He doesn't regret the work he put in at linebacker.

"It all benefited me," Kerney said. "I'm moving better. My burst off the ball is better. That comes from practicing at linebacker."

The Falcons got a scare near the end of Tuesday's practice when Overstreet hurt his left shoulder on a crackback block.

Coach Dan Reeves said the rookie, a third-round pick from Tennessee, was doubtful for Friday night's exhibition opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Overstreet said he still hopes to play.

"It's really sore," he said. "I strained a lot of muscles in the back of the shoulder. We'll see how it feels tomorrow. If it's better, I should be all right for the game. If it still hurts like crazy, it probably wouldn't be too smart to play."