FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith was somewhat subtle about the demotion of Osi Umenyiora, saying he wanted to keep Umenyiora on a "pitch count" and use the veteran defensive end more as a situational pass-rusher against the Washington Redskins.
But Smith expounded on the matter a little more Monday when he talked about starting Jonathan Massaquoi at Umenyiora's usual right defensive end spot.
"Yesterday we wanted to see -- even though he's a second-year player -- we wanted to see how Jonathan Massaquoi could handle playing 85 percent of the snaps in the ball game," Smith said. "And if you look at the play count, that's about where he was."
Massaquoi played 58 of 67 defensive snaps while Umenyiora played just 27 in his new reserve role. Prior to Sunday's game, Umenyiora's lowest percentage of snaps in a game was 60 percent in a blowout loss at Tampa Bay. Umenyiora played 68 percent of the snaps two games ago at Green Bay.
The 32-year-old Umenyiora hasn't been dominant this season, but he has been productive. He still leads the team with 7.5 sacks and has an interception return for a touchdown. Umenyiora managed a sack and forced fumble despite his limited duty against the Redskins.
The Falcons signed Umenyiora to a two-year contract in the offseason. He has a $4.75 million cap number next season.
How the Falcons plan to proceed into the future at defensive end remains unknown. The team obviously wants to get a closer look at Massaquoi along with rookies Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga. Plenty of fans would like to see the Falcons draft massive South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the Falcons currently stand fifth in the draft order.
Former first-round pick Peria Jerry has had his moments as an edge rusher, but Jerry is coming off a rough game against the Redskins. And the Falcons will get hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Kroy Biermann back from an Achilles injury next season. Not to mention the Falcons could make a major move in free agency to shore up the pass rush.
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons utilize Umenyiora over the final two games. He seems destined to be under the same "pitch count" based on the team's desire to evaluate the young players.
"We're going to get a good evaluation of a lot of guys in the last quarter of the season," Smith said. "And I think it's going to pay dividends for us moving forward. We're going to be able to determine who can play. And they're going to be put in a lot of different situations."