Osi Umenyiora in a rush to add to game

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Not a week goes by without Osi Umenyiora connecting with his Hall of Fame friend and former New York Giants teammate Michael Strahan.

The two talk two or three times a week. Their latest conversation had much to do with Umenyiora trying to find ways to reinvent his game so he can be an effective designated pass-rusher for the Atlanta Falcons this season.

"Two days ago, I was talking to Strahan about the bull rush that he did," Umenyiora explained. "And I was asking him how he was able to do that so well. And he was like, 'Just take it up the field a little bit more, stutter, and bull.'

"Strahan not only was my teammate, he is a really good friend. We did so much together. He really taught me so much as a man and as a football player."

You have to admire that Umenyiora, who turns 33 in November, continues to be a student of the game. He obviously doesn't want to walk away from football as an old guy on the decline.

In fact, the slimmed-down Umenyiora looked youthful in Saturday's exhibition loss to Houston. He had a couple snaps with tremendous pressure, including one resulting in him batting a ball in the air.

"I thought Osi did some good things," coach Mike Smith said. "He got more snaps. And he got an opportunity to rush the passer. I thought that he affected the passer."

The Falcons need Umenyiora to have quality snaps, with doubts about their ability to generate pressure. Sure, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be creative, but the Falcons need a group effort without an elite pass-rusher.

Umenyiora hopes to be elite, in spurts. It's no secret the Falcons want to limit his reps to keep him fresh. Being a designated pass-rusher was something he approached the coaches about last season when he wasn't producing.

"Last season, it started off pretty well," Umenyiora said. "But then, as the season wore on, teams just kept on pounding and pounding. I think toward the end, I might have gotten a little tired. Late in the season, I think after the grind and the way things were going, I wasn't as fresh as I needed to be."

In terms of keeping fresh now, Umenyiora helped his own cause by dropping 20 pounds down to the 240-pound range. New defensive line coach Bryan Cox constantly emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of his fresh legs and newfound burst.

"First off, he wants me to run off the ball and show my speed," Umenyiora said of Cox. "I had kind of gotten away from really showing my speed a lot because I became more of a technical rusher. I was beating people with technique. But Coach Cox said, 'Osi, you have the speed to win wide. So bring that out.' So I took his advice and I've been doing that more: running off the ball. And it's been working pretty good, too."

Another coach offered helpful advice. Umenyiora studied Dwight Freeney this offseason with hopes of adding a spin move to his arsenal. After being shut down by left tackle Sam Baker during practice, Umenyiora decided to ditch the spin move, until offensive line coach Mike Tice suggested otherwise.

" Tice was like, 'Do you ever work on your spin?' I was like, 'I worked on it and I tried it, but it didn't work,'" Umenyiora said. "And he was like, 'Man, with your speed and your explosion, you should keep working on that move because if you get that move down, they won't be able to block it.'

"Coming from an offensive line coach, I was like, 'Let me take that advice.' So I started back working on it again. And it's worked pretty much every time I've done it.' "

If it all comes together for Umenyiora, maybe he'll add to his 82.5 career sacks and show why rookie left tackle Jake Matthews just referred to him as one of the best pass-rushers to ever play.

"That's funny, man. That's crazy," Umenyiora said of Matthews' words. "He's a very good player, too; very good young player. He's going to be here 15 years.

"After a while, after you've been doing it for so long … I don't think I've had a really good season, to my standards, in the past two seasons. When everyone starts telling you that you can't do this and you're bad, you kind of forget what type of player that you are. Anytime you hear that respect from people, it's refreshing and reminds you of the things that you're capable of doing."