Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters was out of shape last season after recovering from foot surgery, but he is healthy for 2013 and expected to be a major part of Atlanta’s defense.
FLOWERY BRANCH — The defensive line was an offseason priority for the Atlanta Falcons.
In addition to signing defensive end Osi Umenyiora in free agency and drafting two defensive ends, the Falcons are hoping that defensive tackle Corey Peters can return to form after a sub-par season in 2012.
Peters appeared much faster and agile during the team’s first open OTA session. After having offseason foot surgery last year, he missed the first six games on the reserve/nonfootball injured list.
“He came back mid-season and wasn’t in great shape,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “He played with a lot of heart and soul and gave it his all.”
The Falcons are hopeful that Peters can rebound and turn into an interior force.
“Corey will be the first one to tell you how disappointed he was in himself last year, mainly because he missed a whole lot of days with his injury,” defensive line coach Ray Hamilton said. “He looks like himself right now and better. He’s stronger in the weight room. He’s coming back pretty good. I’m looking for a big year from him.”
The Falcons also drafted Clemson defensive end Malliciah Goodman in the fourth round and Texas Christian defensive end Stansly Maponga in the fifth round.
Maponga had foot surgery in March and is expected back for training camp.
The Falcons like what they see from Goodman.
“Malliciah Goodman is doing good,” Hamilton said. “Young guy. Athletic guy. Big guy. Strong. He’s fairly smart. He’s picking up the system, but you know how rookies are with the system, their head is swimming. But he’s starting to settle down a little bit. It’s starting to make sense to him. He’s a very smart player. I think he has a pretty good upside.”
Umenyiora, 31, a two-time Super Bowl champion from his days with the New York Giants, is the Falcons’ major offseason pickup on defense. He signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract on March 27 and will be counted on to replace John Abraham, who was not re-signed and is still searching for a new team.
Umenyiora lined up at right and left end as the Falcons flashed in an out of 3-4 and 4-3 base alignments.
“It’s been awesome,” Umenyiora said. “The whole team has welcomed me with open arms. It’s just been a wonderful feeling coming out there with these guys. It’s a great football team. They have welcomed me and I’m happy to be here.”
Abraham led the Falcons with 68.5 sacks over the past seven seasons. He had double-digit sacks in four seasons, including 10 last season.
Umenyiora played in 16 games and made four starts in 2012. He had 55 tackles, six sacks, five tackles for loss and one forced fumble for the Giants last season. Umenyiora was named to the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2007.
Umenyiora has 75 career sacks and 31 forced fumbles in 129 games over 10 season. His 75 sacks rank ninth in the league for active players. At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, he appears to be rejuvenated following the free-agent signing with the Falcons.
“This is a new chapter in my life and I’m so happy to be here,” he said. “I am happy to be with this winning franchise and I’m going to do everything I can to help them keep winning.”
The Falcons may not be done. There are reports linking them to free-agent defensive tackle Richard Seymour.
Any deal for Seymour, a seven-time Pro Bowler, would have to come after the team signed its remaining rookies and created some more salary cap space by finalizing an extension with quarterback Matt Ryan.