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Brooks Reed knows he hasn't lived up to Falcons' expecations

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons didn't make a big splash in free agency this past offseason. They did, however, show plenty of faith in Brooks Reed by signing the outside linebacker to a five-year, $22.5 million contract that included $9 million guaranteed with an average of $4.5 million per season.

That's more than the Falcons gave to any of the free agents they signed in the offseason. And Reed has not made a significant impact thus far.

He knows it.

"All I can say is I'm working to be a better football player," Reed said. "It's going to take just a lot of hard work. All I can say is that I'm working at it and it's going to come. I promise that.

"That's something I expressed to the coaches when they signed me: What they saw in the player in Houston is what they're going to get here, and more. My development isn't finished yet. My peak ... I haven't played my best football yet. I'll get there. It's a work in progress right now."

The 28-year-old Reed spent his first four NFL seasons with the Houston Texans. He wasn't a dominant player by any means, but he fit well next to J.J. Watt as a tough run-stuffer capable of aiding the pass rush with his relentless effort.

The Falcons viewed him as a run-stopper first. However, his transition to a new team was far from seamless after he underwent preseason groin surgery. It was his third such procedure on a lingering problem, which he believes is now fixed. Reed did not end up going on short-term injured reserve, as initially expected. Instead, he was inactive for the first three games of the season before making his Falcons debut in Week 4 against his former team, the Texans.

"I'm not going to lie and say it didn't slow me down," Reed said of the surgery. "And I had issues with it in the offseason and tried to pretend like it didn't bother me, because I know how important an offseason is for a professional in the NFL. You have to train. I tried to, and the training wasn't as quality as I wanted because I couldn't go 100 percent. When I finally got fixed, it was kind of a point of relief. By then, the season had started already. Right now, I'm just playing catch-up. The good thing is I feel great now and can only get better."

Reed enters Sunday's game against Cam Newton and the undefeated Carolina Panthers with 13 tackles, one tackle for a loss, two quarterback hits and no sacks in 262 snaps played. The coaches moved him into a nickel pass-rushing role a couple of games ago ahead of O'Brien Schofield, who was inserted as the starting outside linebacker in the base package.

Reed understands he has a lot to prove.

"I want to make the coaches happy that they picked me and prove that they picked the right guy," Reed said. "I want nothing more than that, and for my teammates to see that as well. I'm working my butt off. That's all I can keep doing."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn was asked for his assessment of Reed and linebacker Justin Durant, the two free agents brought in to help shore up the defense. When healthy, Durant has shown the ability to fly around the field and make plays, but he's been banged up all season.

"With JD [Durant], it's the versatility," Quinn said. "He plays in our base and nickel package. It's the speed that we wanted to bring into our defense to make sure that we could just be absolutely flying, so I think that would be the first part with him.

"With Brooks, we were hoping for an edge-setter who could also provide some pass rush as well. We're starting to feature him a little bit more in the nickel package right now. We've flipped him and O'Brien Schofield some and we'll see if we stay down that road depending on the game plan and the week. We did that for the last two weeks, but that's kind of what I've seen so far from those guys."

Quinn was asked if he's gotten enough from Reed and Durant.

"Yeah, they're giving it all they've got," Quinn said.

We'll see how both players perform over the final four games. Durant has to stay healthy, while Reed has to prove he can be an asset on defense rather than a liability.

A total of $2.1 million of Reed's $2.5 million base salary for 2016 becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2016 league year. We'll see how the Falcons evaluate him after the season with obvious holes still existing on defense, particularly at linebacker.