BUFORD, Ga - Falcons defensive lineman Derrick Shelby is trying something new before his seventh NFL season. While he's used to tangling with guards and tackles, wrestling running backs and out-smarting opposing strategies, this is a different type of fight.
"Every offseason you've got to find some way to push yourself to be better because there are younger bodies coming in," said Shelby. "You've always got to give yourself another edge to stay in."
With that in mind, Shelby has spent time this offseason trying out mixed martial arts, doing his workouts at Straight Blast Gym in Buford, not far from the Falcons team facility. Other players have trained there as well, including linebacker Duke Riley and center Alex Mack.
"When you're a younger player, you're fresher but you have more to learn," said Shelby. "I have the football thing down, I just have to keep my body in tune with my mind."
FOX 5 profiled the linebacker Riley's MMA workouts, which focused heavily on takedowns and grappling. Shelby's sessions look different, with most of the time concentrated on what looks like traditional boxing.
Shelby says it's a different way to train his body to transfer power from his hips to his arms. He most appreciates being forced to work from different angles, a similar feeling to battling blockers in the trenches.
"It puts them in a position where if they get pushed back they can generate power," said Jim Sheppard, owner of Straight Blast Gym who worked one-on-one with Shelby. "That's why today you saw us do something as a righty and immediately switch as a lefty. Just like in football, you don't get to dictate [to your opponent], 'hey, make sure I stay in this stance.' You're going to move around to places you don't want to be."
Shelby says Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young pushed him to try MMA; and if Young, who played 14 NFL seasons, though it was a good idea, Shelby was more than willing to try. While teammates are also fine-tuning their fighting skills on the mat, there have been no locker room sparring sessions just yet.
"What works for one guy may not work for another," said Shelby. "This seems to be helping my game, I'm all for it."
The Falcons are scheduled to open their 2018 Training Camp on Friday, July 27 with a practice at 9:20 a.m. That session is scheduled to be open to fans, weather permitting.