Shann Schillinger was the Falcon’s final choice in their 2010 draft class, taken in the sixth round out of Montana. Schillinger wound up playing in fifteen games this year, missing the season finale after breaking his ankle in the Falcons Monday Night loss against the Saints in Week 16.
For the year, Schillinger took a grand total of 3 snaps on regular defense, which came in the garbage minutes in a blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. He recorded no tackles on defense, but did get 8 stops on special teams, including 2 stops on kickoff coverage that earned him a little by via Moneyball.
Overall, it was a pretty non-descript season for the rookie safety, who turned 25 on Sunday. But Schillinger could be in a position to make a bigger impact with the team in 2011. Since fracturing his ankle, the team let go of veteran safety Erik Coleman and did not take a safety in the draft, as some expected them to do. That means that Schillinger will enter this summer as the team’s top backup at safety. A vital position considering how injury-prone safeties are at this level.
It’s probable that the team’s hope for Schillinger’s future is one of the reasons they chose not to bring back Coleman for the final year of his contract. Schillinger won’t be pushing either of the starter’s but he could be taking a page from starting free safety Thomas DeCoud.
DeCoud was a third round pick for the Falcons in 2008, but did not play a single snap on regular defense during that year. The following off-season the Falcons used their second round pick on William Moore as the replacement for strong safety Lawyer Milloy. DeCoud was set to push Moore, but it was without a doubt Moore’s job to lose. But due to injuries that plagued Moore that summer, DeCoud was able to take advantage and emerge as a solid starting candidate at safety. So good, that the team decided instead of playing him at strong safety, they moved him to his more natural free safety spot and switched Colmean over to the strong position. DeCoud hasn’t relinquished the job since. He has had his ups and downs as a starter, but for the most part he’s a solid young free safety in this league.
Schillinger can hope that even with a year of virtual inactivity as a rookie, he can leap frog and show the coaches that he can fill a key role with the team this summer. Like DeCoud, Schillinger isn’t the biggest safety out there, but he’s got nice speed, a good nose for the football in run support, and ball skills in coverage. He showed this during the preseason with a big-time interception against the Chiefs: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/09000d5d819bc1ca/Schillinger-29-yard-INT-return
Schillinger may not be a guy that immediately jumps to mind as a key player for the Falcons. But again, safeties aren’t the most durable players. That is obvious from Moore’s injuries throughout his rookie season, and the fact that Coleman went down with an injury after Week 1, and then subsequently lost his job to a hard-charging Moore. For consecutive seasons, injuries have played a key part on which safeties see the field. And if an injury were to occur for a third straight year, then Schillinger might find his opportunity.
And if he makes the most of it, it could at least give the Falcons some pause after the season when they have to decide on the future of Thomas DeCoud, who is entering the final year of his contract along with several other players from the 2008 draft class, namely Kroy Biermann and Curtis Lofton, as well as veterans like Tony Gonzalez, John Abraham, and Todd McClure. Every penny pinched for the Falcons could be important one when it comes to refiguring their core after the season.
If things go well, Schillinger won’t have to see the field on defense all year long. But if things go awry, then how ready he is this summer could be a key factor in how tough the Falcons defense is this year and subsequently how good the entire team is in 2011.