Injury Update, Expectations on Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Troy Andersen

As the Atlanta Falcons defense took a considerable step forward last season, the linebacker pairing of Kaden Elliss and Nate Landman drew praise.

Injury Update, Expectations on Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Troy Andersen

Elliss was expected to shine; the Falcons gave him a three-year, $21.5 million contract and the reins of their defense for a reason.

But Landman wasn’t supposed to get the opportunity — that spot was reserved for Troy Andersen, a second-round pick in 2022, the same year Landman went undrafted.

During their rookie season, while Andersen emerged as a starter over the final four games, Landman watched from the practice squad. In training camp over the summer of 2023, Landman took reps behind Andersen.

But two weeks into the season, Landman found himself thrust into action.

Andersen walked into team facilities in Flowery Branch with a concussion two days after the team’s Week 1 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Landman replaced him in Week 2, making four tackles while playing all but one snap. Andersen returned the following week but suffered a pectoral injury late in the fourth quarter of a 20-6 loss to the Detroit Lions and ultimately needed surgery.

Needing a viable replacement in the middle of its defense for the final 14 games, Atlanta turned to Landman — and he delivered.

The 6-3, 235-pounder finished third on the team with 110 tackles and fourth with seven tackles for loss. He tied for the team lead with three-forced fumbles while adding two sacks and an interception.

The Falcons re-signed Landman, an exclusive rights free agent, earlier this spring. Elliss has two years remaining on his deal. Andersen’s role in new defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake’s base 3-4 defense is unsettled.

But Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot remains steadfast in his belief that Andersen, a 6-4, 235-pound specimen who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, has better days ahead.

“He’s really coming on,” Fontenot said. “He’s shown a lot of flashes at linebacker. Just a big, athletic man that, obviously, raw talent that has areas to grow in, but then, unfortunate injury. And we’re really excited.

“We know he’s going to be — the way he runs, the power — he’s going to be an impactful player for us.”

Fontenot also noted the impact Andersen brings on special teams; he played 61% of Atlanta’s third-phase snaps in 2022, but only 25% when healthy in 2023.

Prior to his injury, Andersen produced, as newly hired inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud noted. Across two games, Andersen logged 19 tackles, one tackle for loss and a half-sack.

But the 25-year-old Andersen is still a work in progress. He’s played 620 total defensive snaps as a professional, and he arrived in Atlanta already devoid of specialty linebacker training — at Montana State University, he was involved with the offense each year until his last in 2021.

Andersen had a storybook career for the Bobcats. He was All-Big Sky at quarterback in 2019 after being freshman of the year at running back in 2018. He finished as the FCS Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.

Upside is abundant with Andersen — and Ruud sees a moldable project in front him.

“Troy’s probably the highest-end athlete (in the linebackers room),” Ruud said. “Can really run. Big, strong, fast. Has all the measurables.”

Atlanta’s new coaching staff is still familiarizing itself with Andersen, head coach Raheem Morris said. After all, there’s simply not much tape to go off from last season.

Morris compared Andersen’s athleticism to the arm strength of first-round quarterback Michael Penix Jr.; during the Falcons’ private workout with Penix, Morris played linebacker, watching — and hearing — the lefty’s passes rip through the air.

Watching Andersen’s feet tear up the grass inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium had a similar effect on the Falcons’ first-year coach.

“You could feel the speed,” Morris said. “Really fired up to get him going, see what we can do moving forward.”

The Falcons’ linebackers core has a few safe bets. Elliss will be the No. 1, and fifth-round rookie J.D. Bertrand likely takes over as the No. 4. But what happens between them may be decided in the next four months before the season opener.

There’s uncertainty, but there’s also excitement.

Landman took his opportunity and ran with it last season. Andersen was expected to do the same — and he might just get a second chance this fall.

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