Stick to 'D' plan: De'Vondre Campbell credits fast start to extra instruction

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Just last week, Atlanta Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell ended practice with an interception, generating a collective roar from his defensive mates.

His day wasn't complete.

As most players exited toward the locker room, Campbell sought out linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and lined up across Ulbrich in the far back corner of the practice field. Campbell spent about 10 minutes working on hand drills.

"Every single day after practice, he's out there with me working," Campbell said of Ulbrich. "Whether it's pass rush or Plan D stuff, that's extra. That's something that he doesn't have to do. But he's out there doing it with me. It just shows that he believes in me. He knows that I'm right there with him."

The "Plan D" Campbell referred to is a concept the Falcons strongly stand by. It's part of a "development" plan coach Dan Quinn brought to the organization when hired in 2015. Although it often involves coaches giving individual instruction to practice squad members, it encompasses more than just that select group of players.

"It’s not just a practice squad consideration at all," Quinn said. "Often times it’s players that we feel need some real work to take their game to a new spot, and we identify probably between 12 to 18 or 20 players that we’re going to really put the extra work in to see if they can make a big push.

"One day, it’s devoted to special teams. Another day is devoted just to your skill work. A third day is devoted to doing some matchups against one another. During that team day, we feel like you can really gain skill development, and that’s where we want to push it really hard. We have a big staff of coaches. Some of their primary roles are before practice or after practice to spend that extra 10 to 15 minutes every day. You keep stacking in minutes and minutes, and before you know it, you’ve had three, four, or five hours of extra skill work to help yourself get really improved."

Quinn often talks about how players should make a significant jump between their first and second seasons. Well, Campbell certainly has. The 2016 fourth-round draft pick from Minnesota has stood out through the first three games. He is tied for third on the team with 17 combined tackles, and he has a sack, two quarterback hits and two passes defensed. The 6-foot-3, 234-pound Campbell is seeing the field better after offseason Lasik eye surgery, and he's utilizing his speed and length to his advantage while covering speedy running backs as well as taller tight ends.

Campbell credits Plan D, which went into full effect around training camp as Campbell made the transition from weakside linebacker to strongside linebacker.

"We'd just be out there doing stuff for 10 minutes, and it pays off," Campbell said. "[Ulbrich] is one of my biggest critics. And I feel like if he weren't, then it would show he doesn't really believe in me. So every time he does get on me, I know it's coming from a good place. It might not be what I want to hear sometimes, but it's what I need to hear."

Campbell said Ulbrich always preaches sticking to technique when you're tired, and Campbell certainly is spent by the time Plan D sessions start. Working on his get-off always is an emphasis, with the Falcons always developing Campbell's pass-rush skills. Another drill involves Campbell working on either moving in for a strip sack or running after a quarterback who steps up and extends the play -- an element the Falcons will need to be aware of for the third straight week this Sunday with Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills.

Campbell was superb in covering Lions tight end Eric Ebron last week but he feels that area still needs to improve through practice and Plan D. He knows he might draw some tough assignments in upcoming games against the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, and rookie O.J. Howard.

"I'm getting better," Campbell said of covering tight ends. "I'm not where I want to be, and I notice that. But that's the reason for being here, to get better. I have really good players to practice against in [Austin] Hooper, [Joshua] Perkins, and [Eric] Saubert. Going against them, it prepares me for anything."

Campbell is sure to keep improving in all areas, provided he sticks to the plan.