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Umenyiora becomes Falcons’ designated pass rusher

Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora hits Redskins quarterback Sean Renfree during Sunday’s game. Umenyiora has been relegated to just a pass rusher in the closing weeks of the season. (Reuters)

Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora hits Redskins quarterback Sean Renfree during Sunday’s game. Umenyiora has been relegated to just a pass rusher in the closing weeks of the season. (Reuters)

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith and defensive end/linebacker Osi Umenyiora had a sit-down meeting last week about the player’s immediate future.

Smith talked to Umenyiora, the team’s key defensive offseason free agency pick up after cutting former All-Pro defensive end John Abraham, about a decreased role for the rest of the season so that the team could look at some of the younger defensive ends.

“Osi and I had a long talk about limiting his snaps in base defenses and having an opportunity to rush the passer because that’s probably his best skill-set,” Smith said on Wednesday. “He was very comfortable with that and giving us an opportunity to play some of these other guys in extended playing time. It gives Osi a chance to be a DPR (designated pass rusher).”

The planned worked as Jonathan Massaquoi started the Washington game and on third down, Umenyiora came in and promptly notched a sack and strip of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. He now has 7.5 sacks this season.

“It was cool,” Umenyiora said. “I went up there and talked to him. I like what they have me doing.”

Umenyiora, 32, signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Falcons on March 28. He hopes to return next season. He played his first nine seasons in the league with the New York Giants, where he was on two Super Bowl winning teams and was a two-time Pro Bowler.

“I’m a team guy, especially right now,” Umenyiora said. “For the team, I don’t think it’s been quite as good this year. Hopefully, we can get this thing corrected next year. But for me, you know, I just didn’t help this team (enough). Right now, my whole focus is going in there and doing the best I can.”

Umenyiora said he plans to focus on rushing from both the right and left sides, although he’s mostly been used from the right side for most of his career.

Against Washington, Massaquoi played 58 of 68 defensive snaps (86 percent). While rookie defensive ends Malliciah Goodman (27) and Stansly Maponga (10 snaps) got some action, too.

“It was not a demotion,” Smith insisted. “I basically wanted to put him on a pitch count in terms of number of snaps that we wanted him to play and in what situations.”