FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora has quietly gone about his business this season.
As things have imploded around him during a disastrous 3-10 season, Umenyiora has remained professional, a steady force on the field and in the locker room for his younger teammates to lean on.
While the former New York Giants star won’t be adding to his Super Bowl ring collection this season, he plans to make sure the unit is ready to face former NFC East foe Washington (3-10) Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“He’s definitely the wizard for the group,” second-year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi said. “He has a lot experience. He has multiple Super Bowl rings and Pro Bowl nominations. He’s been there and has done a lot of great things in his career. For me, as young player, its good for me to soak that up like a sponge.”
When the Falcons elected last offseason to part ways with defensive end John Abraham, they signed Umenyiora to a two-year, $8.5 million deal that includes an unspecified escalator clause for 2014.
Despite the tough times this season, Umenyiora wants to return next season.
“I definitely want to come back,” Umenyiora said. “I think this team, this year, everything that could have went wrong went wrong for us. I don’t think that’s going to happen next season. This is a very good football team and I think we’re going to do something special next year and I want to be around for that, for sure.”
That’s why he’s been working hard with young defensive ends like Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga. The hope is for the younger players to start making strides so that by next season, the rotation will be stronger with the potential return of defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann from Achilles tendon surgery.
Against the Packers last Sunday, Massaquoi (41 of 71 defensive snaps, 51 percent), Goodman (25, 35 percent) and Maponga (15, 21 percent) all saw major action. Goodman and Maponga are rookies.
“They are playing well,” Umenyiora said. “I think for us, we need to get a situation where we are playing more downhill.”
Umenyiora has heard the complaints about the Falcons’ anemic pass rush. He leads the team with 6 1/2 sacks, while Abraham has posted 11 in Arizona and was just named the NFC defensive player of the week.
Massaquoi is the only other Falcons defensive end with a sack with 2 1/2.
Overall, the Falcons have 27 sacks, which ranks 27th in the league. Jacksonville is last with 23.
Umenyiora believes the sack numbers will improve when the Falcons do a better job of stopping the run and create more pass-rushing situations.
“Teams have kind of gotten us off balance and have been able to run the ball,” Umenyiora said. “We haven’t been able to really pin our ears back and rush the passer the way we want to. Hopefully, we can get the game in our favor and be able to do it. Then, I think you’ll see an improvement in the pass rush.”
In addition to leading the team in sacks while playing some linebacker, Umenyiora has 47 tackles, three passes defensed, an interception he returned for a touchdown, five tackles for losses and two forced fumbles.
“I’m definitely glad that he came to Atlanta,” Massaquoi said. “I’ve learned a lot from him on the field and from an off-the-field perspective, too. It’s been great. My game has stepped-up in many ways.”
Umenyiora, a metro Atlanta resident while he played for the Giants, wanted to sign with the Falcons in order to be closer to his family. That part of the season has been delightful for him.
“It’s been fun,” Umenyiora said. “It’s been awesome. It’s been a great journey. I’ve enjoyed it. Even though we lost some games, I’ve really had a good time.”
But given the nature of the business side of NFL, Umenyiora wants to finish out the season strong.
“There are some very good people here, a good coaching staff and a good (general manager),” Umenyiora said. “For me, I just want to go out there and give it my all and let the chips fall where they may after the season.”