Hageman, a 2014 second-round draft pick from Minnesota, will get a look at defensive end rather than defensive tackle in the base defense leading into the season.
"I’m very excited about that; very excited," Hageman said. "It’s something I did in college. It’s a nice little move for me."
Hageman will audition at the same strong-side defensive end role Tyson Jackson played last season, while the coaches are expected to see what Jackson can do inside at defensive tackle. Hageman commended Jackson for taking time to tutor him on the new role.
"That’s all we’re doing is we’re really going back and forth on what to look for, what not to look for," Hageman said. "It’s more of a power position. We’re going back and forth trying to get as comfortable as we can."
Lining straight up against offensive tackles will give Hageman an opportunity to show he can use his power to control the point of attack and help shut down the run. Playing the three-technique defensive tackle spot was more about first-step quickness and penetrating the gap, which wasn’t something Hageman showed the ability to do consistently. He too often was a victim of reach blocks, where offensive lineman could cross his face and wall him off. Now, he'll have more room with which to work.
The Falcons obviously want to get the most out of Hageman, considering he was a high draft pick. He came to Atlanta with the size and physical tools to make an impact, and the previous coaching staff viewed him as the ideal 3-4 defensive end in a multiple scheme. But there were questions about his maturity. As a rookie, he was too hard on himself and often let his frustration show. Then last year, Hageman had a sideline shoving match with defensive line coach Bryan Cox. The relationship between Hageman and Cox was frosty throughout the season.
"It's time to grow up," Hageman said. "At the end the day, it’s about being a professional. Coach Cox has always seen himself in me. That’s the kind of player he was. But it’s all love, man."
If Hageman is going to make an impact for the Falcons moving forward, he has to prove his worth now. He’s not the ideal fit for Dan Quinn’s 4-3-under attacking defense. Hageman’s power and strength, however, is something he has to use to his advantage when on the field. He won’t be part of the team’s nickel rush package, which is expected to feature Adrian Clayborn, Grady Jarrett, Derrick Shelby, and Vic Beasley.
Hageman was asked if he viewed 2016 as a make-or-break year.
"I feel like every year is the most important," he said. "This is my third year. I’m not one to sit here and brag and talk a bunch of words. It’s about my actions. I have to get it done on the field."
Last season, Hageman started 12 of 16 games and finished with 27 total tackles, two tackles for losses, one sack, and six quarterback hits. He played 402 defensive snaps (44 less than Jackson, by comparison).