Some of the best receivers in the NFL lie in the NFC South, including one of the best in the game in Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Going against top-tier receivers at least six games every year means a team must have some solid cornerbacks.
The question is still out on whether the Atlanta Falcons have the corners to stand up to the physical and speedy receivers of their division. For the Falcons to compete for a division title, however, the corners must step up.
In 2014, the Falcons statistically had the worst passing defense in the league, giving up 279.9 yards to opponents per game. That the Falcons came within the final game of the season from winning the division is a testament to the team’s offense as well as how bad the NFC South was in 2014.
Any defensive coach will tell you the secondary is only as good as a team’s defensive line, which is true. Atlanta struggled in getting pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks getting only 22 sacks last year. Only the Cincinnati Bengals had fewer sacks than Atlanta.
The team hired Raheem Morris as assistant head coach in charge of the defensive backs. A former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Morris is familiar with the NFC South. He spent the last three years as defensive back’s coach with the Washington Redskins. He will have some work to do in Atlanta.
Currently, the team only has three players with more than two years of NFL experience meaning the Falcons are a young squad that will have to grow up quickly.
It will start with Desmond Trufant, who is the team’s top cornerback. The 6-foot, 190-pound Trufant, who is entering his third year, was second on the team with three interceptions (safety Kemal Ishmael led the team with four picks). He also had 16 pass breakups in 2014. He has the ability to be a Pro Bowl cornerback.
The player on the opposite side of Trufant is not etched in stone. Robert Alford is also entering his third season. In 10 starts, he also had three interceptions and 12 pass breakups. He is coming back after his season ended with a broken wrist but Alford is likely to get the first shot at corner.
Phillip Adams has the most experience entering his sixth year in the league. He played only in 12 games last year and is more likely to vie for the team’s nickle role.
An interesting experiment to keep an eye on during training camp is Dezmen Southward. Southward was asked to move from safety to cornerback. The former third-round pick out of Wisconsin would provide the Falcons with the size to go against some of the division’s bigger corners. Southward is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds but it is still unclear whether he can make the transition.
The team did use its second round pick to take Jalen Collins out of LSU. Collins is 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds and is known as a playmaker. He had a team-high nine pass breakups in his final season with the Tigers and could get a chance to challenge for a starting position during training camp.
Atlanta also has rookies Kevin White and Michael Lee as well as second-year player Ricardo Allen listed as a corner on the roster. Allen has worked in the offseason at safety and may find his home there, although he finished his career at Purdue with a school-record four interceptions returned for touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 263 total tackles.
Training camp will be intriguing in the secondary for the Falcons. The team will use it not only to solidify its rotation but to improve on last year.