May 29, 2013; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi (96) during organized team activities at the Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Jonathan Massaquoi lined up against fellow defensive end and Troy alum Osi Umenyiora for a drill during OTAs on Wednesday at the Atlanta Falcons' complex in Flowery Branch.
Umenyiora, a 10-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl champ, kept trying to get Massaquoi to jump early.
The second-year pro didn't bite.
When they took off for real, smacking a pop-up tackling dummy and zig-zagging through two small cones, Massaquoi was quicker.
Umenyiora pointed to Massaquoi, a former standout at Central Gwinnett, in salute. One point for the kid.
Later, it was Umenyiora that got through the one-on-one drill first.
"Just to be out there with another guy from Troy and him being in the league for 10 years, he's taken me under his wing," Massaquoi said. "Even though this is my second year, there's so much to learn from a guy like that. He's an upstanding guy and I'm happy we acquired him."
Massaquoi is prepared for the battle that lies ahead. Defensive end is shaping up to be one of the offseason's most hotly contested positions. Not only do the Falcons have Massaquoi and Kroy Biermann returning, they signed free agent Umenyiora and drafted two more ends.
Clemson's Malliciah Goodman was picked up in the fourth round and Stansly Maponga, out of TCU, was added in the following round.
"I wouldn't want to have it any other way," Massaquoi said. "It makes me work harder. It allows me to know that, hey, going to sleep at night, I have to wake up and be one of the first guys here, be one of the first guys in the meeting, be one of the first guys on the field and just truly show my talents."
Massaquoi got into all four of Atlanta's preseason games in 2012 and the last eight straight in the regular season. He also saw time in both playoff games.
"He's a very instinctive guy and he got to a point last year where we felt good about him going into games," defensive line coach Ray Hamilton said. "He did a good job when he was in the game, with his assignments, and we saw the athletic ability and natural football instincts.
"This year, he's coming back for his second season in the same system, we expect him to be better and make more of a contribution."
Working with his trainer in Atlanta and being diligent about his eating habits has honed Massaquoi's 6-foot-2 physique.
"Since last season ended, I've been working hard," he said. "There are no off days.
"I'm a little slimmer than I was last year. Just trying to keep that step, that cat-like twitch and move forward."
As a rookie, Massaquoi found himself asking a lot of questions.
"The first season pro is always the hardest, the most challenging," he said. "Last season I was on special teams the whole time and I played a bit in my position. This year, coming in as a second-year player, from a mental standpoint, the game has slowed down.
"There's no more acclimating myself. It's coming to work, knowing what I've got to do and actually going out there and doing it -- instead of coming to work, asking where to go, going there, asking how to do it."
Massaquoi is also helped by the fact that it's his second season in the same system.
"We're doing some different things, but he's catching on pretty good," Hamilton said. "He is a smarter player than he was last year.
"A lot of times, rookies come in and they're just wide-eyed, just trying to survive. He survived last year, so now he's trying to be more diligent about learning. And he is. He's doing a great job."