<
>

Free-agent O'Brien Schofield could return to Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Free-agent outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, who brought intensity to the Atlanta Falcons' defense and locker room last season, could find himself back on the team's roster before the regular season begins.

Schofield, who was offered a contract early in the free-agency process but never agreed to terms, has been in constant contact with Falcons coach Dan Quinn while awaiting the best opportunity. Schofield said he has options but is looking for the ideal fit at the right price. He made $1.7 million on a one-year contract last season.

"If the opportunity presents itself, I'll definitely return," Schofield said Tuesday from Hawaii. "I know the system. I'm comfortable with the organization. I'm still the same guy, but I have a little more to bring to the team this year. My training has changed. I think it would benefit both of us."

The Falcons currently have three open roster spots following Tuesday's release of veteran return man Devin Hester. Hester's departure opened up $3 million in cap space, and the Falcons entered the day with about $9.25 million in cap space. In others words, there should be room to sign Schofield, if desired.

Quinn admitted that Schofield remains on the radar, as does veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney. Nothing appears to be imminent, although it seems likely that the Falcons would bring back Schofield before entertaining the thought of signing Freeney.

"Scho's somebody that we certainly keep up with," Quinn said Tuesday. "And as we're going through it, we've had a lot of discussions. We haven't made a final decision on that, but he's certainly someone that comes up a lot for us.

"No. 1, he's had a terrific offseason in training. I've communicated with him -- I wouldn't say regularly -- but enough to know that he's really doing well. Somebody that we're definitely keeping in mind, yeah."

Schofield continues to train in Hawaii, where he's worked alongside former teammate and current Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett since the middle of March. Schofield said the training sessions with Bennett, which also include tutoring from former two-time Denver Broncos sack leader and one-time Falcon Maa Tanuvasa, have only enhanced his pass-rush ability.

"It's helped a lot," Schofield said. "And [Bennett] introduced me to my physical therapist to help with my [left] knee. When I first started off here, I was barely squatting 315. Now I'm at like 520. I've gotten stronger. I've gotten bigger. I'm 254. I was only like 244 last year. I put on 10 pounds."

In talking to Quinn, Schofield made sure to emphasize his willingness to help bolster a defense that had a league-low 19 sacks in 2015. Last year, he had just two sacks to go with 13 quarterback hits. However, Schofield was taken out of a pass-rush role the second half of the season to be more of a run-stopper at strongside linebacker. The film showed Schofield was solid against the run in terms of setting the edge.

"I'm a versatile player," Schofield said, "but I want to play with my hand in the dirt. My goal is to help rush the passer. I have yet to play a full season just rushing the passer, and I think I can do that."

The Falcons report to training camp Wednesday and hold their first training camp practice Thursday morning.