Former Arizona Cardinals DE Dwight Freeney (C) celebrates a sack, which he thought was a safety in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals-Green Bay Packers game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, December 27, 2015. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 38-8. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons, seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney will join the team Thursday and be available for all four of the exhibition games.
Atlanta had 19 sacks last season, which ranked last in the NFL. In fact, the Falcons' pass rush has finished 30th, 31st and 32nd, respectively, in sacks over the past three seasons.
Freeney, 36, had eight sacks with Arizona last season and should help with the development of second-year linebacker/defensive end Vic Beasley. Beasley, the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft, is the future of the Falcons' pass-rush.
Beasley, who is being moved to strongside linebacker in the base defense, had four sacks last season.
Freeney, who agreed to terms on Tuesday, will play on only passing downs and is considered a perfect fit for what the Falcons need.
Freeney, who played at Syracuse, was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round (11th overall) of the 2002 NFL draft.
Freeney played 11 seasons for the Colts and had 107.5 sacks and 43 forced fumbles in 163 games. He has recorded 47 career forced fumbles, which ranks third in NFL history, according to STATS LLC. The three-time All-Pro player has amassed 119.5 career sacks (19th in NFL history).
He will be reunited with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, with whom he played last year at Arizona.
The move also pushes the Falcons to the 90-man roster limit.
Freeney also visited the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason.
As far as the Falcons are concerned, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will their new strongside linebacker.
Beasley, who played defensive end last season, has shown an uptick in his play after a slow start to training camp.
"The first day was kind of slow for me, but now things are coming around for me," Beasley said. "I'm just trying to be the best that I can be at that position."
Falcons coach Dan Quinn and linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich concur that Beasley is coming along at his new spot.
"It's a different world for him in a lot of ways," Ulbrich said. "It's not like we are doing it a whole lot, but the reps that he's had in there. He's another guy that just continues to progress.
"It's a thing where you just need reps. It's conceptual and theoretical in the classroom and that's all good and great. He can start to articulate it there, but to actually apply it out here on the field is a different thing. It's going to take a second, but he's going to get it."
The Falcons played Brooks Reed and O'Brien Schofield at the strongside linebacker position last season. Reed was injured for most of the season and Schofield, was solid, but not spectacular. He wasn't re-signed by the team.
Beasley started all 16 games last season and struggled at times against the run. He had 27 sacks (20 solo), one interception, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed.
With Freeney and Beasley as rush ends in the Falcons nickel package, they are hoping to finally generate some pressure on the quarterback.
The Falcons are confident that Beasley will make the switch to strongside linebacker in the base defense.
"He's got a real prideful approach to him," Quinn said. "He wants to get it right. I want him to get right and let it rip."
"The dropping thing is a little bit different," Ulbrich said. "Honestly, it's something that because he's such a bright guy and an athletic guy, he'll be fine."
Paul Worrilow, the incumbent starter at middle linebacker, was moved to weakside linebacker in the team's nickel defense. Worrilow played alongside rookie Deion Jones, the Falcons' second-round pick, who is competing for the starting middle linebacker position.
"We are just trying to create more versatility with (Worrilow)," Quinn said. "That was the real goal there knowing that Paul is also not only going to have a role at (middle), (weakside) and (special) teams, all of the things that we are doing."
Cornerback Brian Poole, an undrafted rookie from Florida, stood out for Quinn early in camp. Poole has been lining up at nickel back with the first team defense.
"We've him at nickel and we've played him at safety as well," Quinn said. "He's done a nice job in the zone. We are going to keep forcing it on to see where he can get to."
Meanwhile, free safety Ricardo Allen, who made the switch from cornerback last season, looks at home early in camp.
"He was probably one of the people I was thinking of when we asked about the communication," Quinn said. "His ability to now articulate exactly the alert that could happen, a play that may happen based on a formation, the communication that happens on the field. That's a big part of his jump."
Strong safety Keanu Neal is off to a solid start. It didn't take long for him to establish his physical presence. He popped tight end Jacob Tamme during the second padded practice and the first fight - a minor scuffle - of training camp ensued.