Hageman gives Falcons new look at defensive end

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Mike Smith says he doesn’t want his Falcons defense to be predictable or easily labeled.

Second-round draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman is a very big reason Atlanta may no longer be easily cast as a 4-3 defense.

Hageman (6-6, 318) played nose tackle at Minnesota and was drafted as a defensive end. That’s a strong signal there will be an increased emphasis on a 3-4 scheme. Players who look like offensive tackles don’t often play defensive end in four-man fronts.

Following Friday’s first session of the three-day rookie minicamp, Hageman gave an even stronger signal of the changes planned in Atlanta when he discussed the adjustments he must make in the NFL.

“In college I played a 4-3 but now we play a 3-4,” Hageman said.

Oh.

Smith hasn’t gone that far in revealing his plans. He only says he expects the Falcons’ defense to be multiple.

“We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as ‘this defense’ or ‘that defense,’” Smith said. “I think when you really study how people play defense, and how we play defense, you don’t know what we are, and that’s the key.”

Whatever the scheme, the Falcons need to improve a pass rush that produced only 32 sacks in 2013, tied for the league’s third-fewest.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who led the team with 7 1/2 sacks, will return. Defensive tackles Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, who combined for 12 1/2 sacks, re-signed as free agents.

The Falcons added defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai in free agency.

Hageman impressed Smith and his assistants, including defensive line coach Bryan Cox, as the Atlanta staff coached in the Senior Bowl.

“Just the way they coached me down at the Senior Bowl, there was great chemistry with the coaches,” Hageman said.

“I didn’t know what team was going to draft me but I’m glad the Falcons did to kind of put me in a situation to take advantage of my potential.”

The Senior Bowl assignment was a first for Smith. The Falcons finished 4-12 in 2013 following winning records in Smith’s first five seasons.

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