The Atlanta Falcons weren’t quite able to address their free safety position in the offseason as many expected, instead focusing on other areas of need. Whether that proves to be a missed opportunity will only be borne out through training camp.
However, their strong safety position appears secure with the team welcoming William Moore back to the lineup. Moore was limited throughout the 2014 season with a shoulder injury that also kept him from offseason work until June. While Moore may not be able to claim he’s the best player on the Falcons defense, you’d be hard-pressed to disprove that he is the leader of the entire unit.
Moore brings a toughness, energy and level of leadership to the defense that was sorely missing a year ago. While age is beginning to catch up to Moore, he’s still one of the league’s fiercest run-defenders and should step smoothly into the strong safety role in new head coach Dan Quinn’s new scheme. In that role, Moore will act as an enforcer against the run, often being asked to play in the box, which is his greatest strength. His biggest adjustment will be the times where he’ll be asked to play in man coverage, which has always been Moore’s biggest weakness. But most of the time, that weakness was exposed against the likes of Jimmy Graham, formerly of New Orleans, a matchup Moore may never see again. Moore is excellent in zone coverage thanks to his speed, range and instincts, with a knack for picking off tipped passes as he has nine career interceptions off tipped balls.
The big question heading into camp however is who will be playing beside him in the Falcons secondary? After all, the free safety position may be the most important spot on the entire defense given Quinn’s scheme playing a ton of zone and Cover-3 looks. Right now expectations are high that second-year player Ricardo Allen will man the spot, but he’ll face competition from the likes of Kemal Ishmael and Charles Godfrey this summer.
Allen is making the conversion from cornerback after spending his rookie year on the practice squad. Allen was an undersized corner lacking top-end speed and would have never been able to make the transition to cornerback in Quinn’s scheme that plays a ton of press coverage. But instead he’ll make the switch to free safety, where his comfort in zone coverage and “plus” tackling ability are much better fits.
The question is whether Allen is prepared to handle the heightened importance of his new role as a full-time starter this season, given that 2015 is essentially his rookie season and he’s playing a brand new position. It really becomes an issue of comfort, as Allen is learning a new position within a new scheme and all the while needs to put his best foot forward in practice. There’s a lot on his plate, but the early returns at least in minicamp suggest that he is up to the task.
If not, then it’s most likely that the Falcons will turn to Godfrey. A veteran with 75 career starts during seven seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Godfrey is certainly a more known commodity. Godfrey was miscast during his days in Carolina as a player that was asked to play a lot more man coverage than he probably should have, and should be a better fit for Quinn’s defensive scheme which will ask him to play zone and not give up the deep play. However, Godfrey has had a relatively quiet offseason and it remains to be seen if he’s poised to give Allen a true run for his money this summer.
Ishmael is also in the mix, but more than likely will be expected to back up Moore at strong safety. That is really where Ishmael fits best in the new scheme, having struggled mightily when the Falcons utilized him as a deep centerfielder in their Cover-3 looks a year ago. Like Moore, Ishmael is at his best when defending the run and should be a good fit behind him. Moore has missed 17 games due to injury over the past four seasons, indicating there is a high probability that should Ishmael see the field in 2015, it will likely come as an injury replacement at strong safety.
Also in the mix for roster positions are undrafted rookies Terell Floyd, Robensen Therezie and Damian Parms. Floyd is like Allen in that he is converting from cornerback to free safety. Floyd did play some safety during his days at Louisville, so the transformation isn’t quite as new as it is with the Falcons’ projected starter. Both Therezie and Parms are thumpers against the run that will be fighting for a chance to impress behind Ishmael.
All three undrafted players are likely competing for a chance to land on the practice squad along with Sean Baker. He had a couple of nice moments as a run-defender last summer in camp with the Falcons and also impressed during the regular season as a special-teams performer despite limited work. He has spent the past two years on the Falcons’ practice squad and it appears doubtful that he’ll get a third, so thus he’ll need to have a strong camp to remain in Atlanta.
This is another position to monitor the competition as the Falcons will need to be sold by the end of the summer that either Allen, Godfrey or Ishmael are going to be fine as full-time starters heading into the regular season. If not, then Falcons may be in a tough position hoping to find a viable starter off the waiver wire, and might have to resort to hoping another team is willing to trade a proven backup to become a starter in Atlanta.
But as of right now, people are confident that Allen will play well enough to deter those issues, and if not, then Godfrey represents a capable fall-back option.