Falcons' hidden treasure: Pass rush

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

A lot of fans were upset when the Falcons didn’t pursue Mario Williams in free agency. The only real move the Falcons made to add to a pass rush that was less than ferocious last year was to draft Jonathan Massaquoi. I’m not expecting the fifth-round pick to have an instant impact. That means the Falcons are going basically with what they had last season. They’ll start veterans John Abraham and Ray Edwards and rotate Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury in at times.

Despite having no major changes up front, the coaching staff sincerely believes the pass rush will be better this season. There’s some decent logic to that. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made it known he wanted three starting-caliber cornerbacks. He has that now with Asante Samuel joining Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson.

The thinking is that Samuel, Grimes and Robinson will tie up receivers a bit longer and quarterbacks will have to hold onto the ball. If that happens, Abraham is a threat to finish with double-digit sacks.

Edwards also could fall into that category. He didn’t have a big season after coming in as Atlanta’s top free-agent pickup last year. A knee injury might have contributed to that. But Edwards wasn’t happy with his performance, or the criticism that came with it. He’s motivated to go out and prove the skeptics wrong. If he gets a little help from the cornerbacks, Edwards could have a big year.