FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Vic Beasley Jr., the reigning NFL sacks leader, has heard before that tweaking his pass-rush stance might lead to even greater success.
It wasn’t that the Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher ignored those suggestions. But to listen to such advice coming from a guy who played 12 NFL seasons, collected 138.5 career sacks, and was named to nine Pro Bowls just put more emphasis behind those words of wisdom.
So when Beasley took the field at Stanford University for the first annual Von Miller pass-rush summit in June, Beasley listened intently as former Dallas Cowboy and Denver Bronco DeMarcus Ware shared a wealth of knowledge.
"DeMarcus was giving me tips here and there," Beasley said. "He was telling me normally my feet are back too far so a majority of the time, [I] just replace my hand with my first step. And he said if I kind of coil up and put my butt up in the air more and take that first step that I'll step out a longer distance.
"I've heard coaches at the [Falcons] facility tell me the same thing. But to hear it from DeMarcus Ware -- from former player to current player -- definitely paid off a lot."
Over the course of one full day, Beasley did enough studying to earn his Master's in the art of pass rush. Attending the summit was something he had discussed for a while with his buddy Miller, the one-time Super Bowl MVP and the guy Beasley bested by two (15.5 to 13.5) for last year's sack title. Beasley also tied Oakland's Bruce Irvin for the league lead with six forced fumbles as he developed a knack for the strip sack.
"It was interesting to see the moves of each different individual," Beasley said. "You can take that and apply that to your game."
During the summit, each rusher was asked to stand in front of the classroom and break down his best pass-rush moments. Beasley studied plenty of Miller in the past, and Miller's slippery moves were reinforced at the summit.
Beasley saw how effective Oakland's Khalil Mack is in using his long arms and great lower-body strength. He watched how Kansas City's Dee Ford capitalizes on his hands and speed. And Beasley observed how Seattle's Cliff Avril relies on power to complete his moves.
"Great guy," Beasley said of Vernon. "Just being able to talk to him and just hearing his insights ... his game is very different from every other player in that room. He's not really the speed guy. He's not really the get-off guy. He's just a guy that can work his hands very well and can slip off things, similar to Von."
Beasley, known for his speed off the edge, hopes to put all those lessons to good use as he chases another sack title and tries to lead a vastly improved Falcons defense. He seems to be playing with a higher level of aggression so far throughout training camp.
Although the Falcons have not yet re-signed his mentor from last year, seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney, the team has surrounded Beasley with more defensive-line talent.
First-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley, who had been limited at camp coming off March shoulder surgery, is expected to provide a boost off the opposite edge. Two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe was signed to push the pocket on the interior alongside ascending Grady Jarrett. And the wild card is Jack Crawford, a high-energy, strong, versatile lineman who came over from Dallas and has already impressed the coaches.
Those additions all could help free up Beasley, who has started to attract added attention and basically got frozen out by the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
"It's going to help me tremendously," Beasley said. "The guys that we have up front, we’re just blessed with so much depth this year. Just having that depth will definitely take pressure off me. And guys such as Poe and Crawford, those are great players that people kind of underestimate."
Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a pass-rush expert who learned a lot of lessons from being around Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, commended Beasley for making the extra effort to enhance his skills. Quinn talked about the next phase in the development of Beasley, the No. 8 overall pick in 2015.
"With Beasley, there's oftentimes a big jump for a player from Year 1 to Year 2. I think there's another one that takes place from Year 2 to Year 3," Quinn said. "You have to go through some experiences to understand, 'How do I deal with this situation?' 'How does this technique work or not work?' and the call of the defense. 'What can I do in this call?' or 'What can't I do in that call?' When you get to that spot and now you really start learning the smaller nuances of it.
"For the early player, I really emphasize the stance and some of the basic fundamentals. As you get further along, we try to find new levels that you can go to. He's off to a good start so far."
Like the lessons learned at the pass-rush summit, Beasley takes Quinn's advice to heart.
"Last year, I did make a lot of improvements and did have a lot of success," Beasley said, "but now the next level of my game is just being more aware of the whole defense is capable of on each play, what defense is being called, and what the cornerbacks are doing and the safeties are doing and linebackers are doing. It's not just simplified as just the defensive line, but [knowing] the whole defense."