Falcons Camp Battles To Watch For – Defense
In part two of this series, the secondary of the Falcons contains all the camp question marks on defense.
As I alluded to in part one, the Atlanta Falcons had very few holes to plug following the 2016 season. Right guard, swing tackle, and the sixth receiver slot are the only positions that remain unfilled on offense.
As for the defense, the Falcons required upgrades in the front seven to improve a unit that ranked 25th in total defense a year ago. The team satisfied those needs in free agency and the draft with the additions of Dontari Poe, Jack Crawford, Takk McKinley, and Duke Riley.
The questions that remain with the defense’s front seven are not a matter of where each player will play, but how many snaps will each player get there. With that said, we turn our attention to the Falcons’ secondary to find the potential roster spots up for grabs.
Backup FS / CB4 : Brian Poole vs. Damontae Kazee
Brian Poole was one of the pleasant surprises from the 2016 season, being an undrafted free agent out of Florida. When Desmond Trufant went down with a pectoral injury in November, Poole stepped up as the full-time nickelback and excelled in that role.
But as we’ve seen so often with Dan Quinn, the coach is always looking for new ways to best feature his players. With the Falcons transitioning to more press man coverage under Marquand Manuel, a move to safety makes sense for Poole.
However, Poole will not be alone in competing for safety reps behind starter Ricardo Allen. The team added Damontae Kazee in the draft with the intention of using his ballhawk skills at free safety.
Super Bowl performance aside, Brian Poole manned the slot corner about as well as anyone could have expected from an undrafted rookie. In addition to Poole’s work in pass coverage, his 11 QB pressures led all cornerbacks in 2016.
So with all that in mind, I believe the Falcons coaching staff will come to the conclusion that Poole should remain at corner while Kazee is groomed to be the heir apparent at free safety.
Backup SS: Sharrod Neasman vs. the field
Backup free safety is not the only safety position open to interpretation for the Falcons. While Sharrod Neasman did an adequate job backing up Keanu Neal in 2016, his limited usage suggests he has in no way locked down the job.
The Falcons brought in an intriguing group of safeties via the undrafted pool to compete with Neasman in camp. Quincy Mauger, Jordan Moore, and Deron Washington are guys that may provide the stiffest competition.
While Neasman certainly has the upper hand, I’m going out on a limb and picking the field in this contest. And the player that may steal the show is UTSA’s Jordan Moore (6-3 225 lbs).
A former track star at TCU and LSU, Moore transferred to UTSA as a graduate student to continue his football career. Not only did Moore prove to be a great athlete in college, he showed he’s a confident one, too, with this quote from a USA Today article during the draft process.
"“Me and Jamal Adams, we would have been like Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas together,” Moore said."
If Moore does indeed fit the Kam Chancellor mold, he’d form an imposing strong safety tandem with Keanu Neal.
CB6: Deji Olatoye vs. Blidi Wreh-Wilson vs. Akeem King vs. UDFAs
Much like receiver, the Falcons are set with the first five atop the depth chart at corner. But as popular belief suggests, a team can never have enough quality cornerbacks.
Olatoye, Wreh-Wilson, and King all spent time as the Falcons’ final cornerback over the last two seasons. With no particularly exciting UDFAs competing for the job, the competition appears to be a three horse race.
Based on his play last year, Deji Olatoye gets my vote in this triple threat match.
Any time you’re discussing the sixth player on the depth chart, you know the team is in a good place. With the starters mostly in tact, competition is sure to heat up for the final few roster spots.
The result will be a roster stronger than last year, a scary proposition for the rest of the NFC.