Atlanta Falcons position preview: Defensive line

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs, offensive line, wide receivers, and tight ends.

We now move to the defensive side of the ball and the defensive line.

The cast: Jonathan Babineaux (11th season), Paul Soliai (9th season), Tyson Jackson (7th season), Adrian Clayborn (5th season), Cliff Matthews (5th season), Malliciah Goodman (3rd season), Ra'Shede Hageman (2nd season), Ricky Havili-Hemuli (2nd season), Grady Jarrett (1st season), Warren Herring (1st season), Joey Mbu (1st season), Sam Meredith (1st season).

2015 cap numbers: Soliai ($4,400,000), Jackson ($3,850,000), Babineaux ($3,619,791), Clayborn ($2,062,500), Hageman ($1,212,691), Matthews ($745,000), Goodman ($684,272), Jarrett ($496,963), Mbu ($436,667), Havili-Hemuli ($435,000), Herring ($435,000), Meredith ($435,000)

The coach: Bryan Cox (2nd season with team)

Key number: The Falcons pressured opposing quarterbacks on just 22.8 percent of their dropbacks last season, the fourth-worst percentage in the league behind the Bengals (20.4), Browns (21.1), and Titans (22.7), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

For starters: In the base defense, Jackson could be at one defensive end spot and Goodman at the other with Soliai at nose tackle and Hageman as the three technique (defensive tackle). That would appear to be the best front four against the run, at least for now. Jackson, who has dropped weight to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, needs to be more of a playmaker than a space-eater, while Soliai's adjustment to the speed of the defense remains a mystery because he doesn't have the ideal quickness and footwork. With so much of the game played in the nickel package these days to combat passing offenses, look for Babineaux and Clayborn to be on the field plenty as pass-rushers along with rookie Vic Beasley and newcomer O'Brien Schofield. Clayborn should line up at defensive end, too, but rushes better from the right side than the left. He acquired Erb's palsy at birth which caused nerve damage to his right shoulder and arm. Hageman might be the key figure in the whole equation as a guy talented enough to be a dominant force, if he can keep his head straight. He worked his body into shape this offseason and wasn't getting winded during offseason practices like he did as a rookie last season. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guru, likes to rotate bodies to keep guys fresh on the field, so being a starter doesn't necessarily carry as much weight. The most important thing is generating pressure and containing the run.

Backup plan: When you start talking about guys capable of coming off the bench and making an impact, Jarrett might be the first guy who comes to mind. The rookie has a high motor and is capable of playing multiple positions. He'll put pressure on the veterans for a starting job, but he needs to get stronger and get accustomed to the speed of the NFL. Quietly, Matthews was a solid contributor in limited reps last season. The new staff obviously saw his value both as a reserve and a special-teamer. Mbu might be the surprise guy to watch. He's already impressed Cox with his ability and could be an undrafted rookie who makes the team as a backup nose tackle. This is the deepest the Falcons have been on the defensive line in quite a while, so let's see if it pays off in the end.

Sunday: Linebackers