The Atlanta Falcons have hired Ryan Nielsen as their defensive coordinator

The Atlanta Falcons have hired Ryan Nielsen as their defensive coordinator

LAS VEGAS — The Atlanta Falcons He hired Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator on Friday, taking over from his biggest rival after spending last season as defensive coordinator. New Orleans Saints.

Nielsen, 43, spent the last six seasons with the Saints, where he was the defensive line coach for six years before adding the title of assistant coach in 2021 and defensive coordinator last season.

Since 2017, the Saints have recorded 281 sacks — second most in the NFL over that span — and have finished in the top four in run defense in four of the last five seasons.

On Friday, the Falcons let go of three defensive coaches: linebacker coach Gary Emanuel, outside linebacker coach Ted Monachino and secondary coach Jon Hoke.

Nielsen is not in Las Vegas with the Falcons staff as Atlanta is practicing in the East-West Shrine Bowl. Linebackers coach Frank Bush is Atlanta’s defensive coordinator in the East-West game.

The Falcons needed a new defensive coordinator after Dean Pees, the NFL’s oldest coordinator last season at 73, he decided to retire for the third time in his career to spend more time with his family, among other things.

Pees built the foundation for Atlanta’s defense, both in the style they wanted to run and the culture they needed to spread throughout the roster.

“It was a different system than what they had,” Pees said. “So you had to buy them.”

The Falcons also had a young defense and turned over all but two starters from the 2020 team – defensive tackle. Grady Jarrett and the corner AJ Terrell — midway through last season. Although Atlanta finished 23rd in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed in 2022, there was progress toward the end of the year.

The Falcons allowed more than 19 points in their last six games and over 350 yards in one game in the second half of the season (351 vs. Pittsburgh), after allowing over 350 yards in Atlanta’s first eight games.

After the season, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said the franchise wanted to talk to a number of potential candidates before making a decision, but also wanted to focus on flexibility with whoever he brought in.

“When you’re building that hybrid model, you’re not looking for revisions,” Smith said. “We have been building something here.”

He didn’t limit his search, interviewing candidates with prior defensive coordinator experience, prior coaching experience and no full-time solo defensive coordinator experience.

When Smith hired Pees, he wanted an experienced play-caller who could also serve as a mentor to a first-time coach. At Pees, Smith had that.

The places they are now are different than they were two seasons ago, Smith said. At the end of 2022, the Falcons had only five defensive players left on the roster from the previous regime — Jarrett, Terrell, linebacker. Michael Walkerthe corner Isaiah Oliver and security Jaylin Hawkins. Oliver is a free agent this season and Walker and Hawkins are in the final years of their contracts.

Smith compared it to what Atlanta could do Baltimore Ravenswho have had multiple defensive coordinators over the years and made changes to their scheme, but not the types of players they were looking for or the approach to the overall scheme of the defense.

“The way we built it,” Smith said. “That will not change.”

Nielsen grew up in Southern California and then went to college at USC to play defensive back and then became a volunteer assistant coach.

He spent the first 15 years of his coaching career in college, working with the defensive line at every stop, serving as the defensive coordinator at Central Connecticut State in 2008 and 2009 and at Northern Illinois in 2012.

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