Cover 9@9: A look at the Falcons’ revamped secondary

Strong safety Duron Harmon (21) was not retained by the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will enter next season with a revamped secondary. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Credit: AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn

Combined ShapeCaption
Strong safety Duron Harmon (21) was not retained by the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will enter next season with a revamped secondary. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Credit: AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn

1. The no-spin zone: The Falcons will enter next season with a revamped secondary.

Right cornerback Fabian Moreau and strong safety Duron Harmon were not retained.

Moreau, who signed recently with Houston, started 16 games and played 1,037 snaps last season. Harmon, who signed with the Raiders, started 17 games and played 1,072 defensive snaps.

Quarterbacks had a 115.1 passer rating allowed when Moreau was targeted. He was one of 12 members on the Falcons’ defense who had a passer rating allowed of over 100. Nine of the 12 are not back with the team.

Harmon had a 99.3 passer rating allowed when targeted.

Cornerback Casey Hayward, a free-agent signee, is projected to take over for Moreau, while second-year safety Richie Grant will get the first shot at Harmon’s spot.

ExploreFalcons assistant Frank Bush on Troy Andersen: ‘He’s in a learning mode’

There are several candidates for the nickel back spot, including Isaiah Oliver, who’s coming back from right knee surgery. Darren Hall, Dee Alford and Erik Harris are some of the other players who could compete at nickel back.

“Anytime you add a vet like Casey Hayward it helps out your defense and your entire team and leadership off the field, too,” assistant defensive backs coach Nick Perry said. “It’s been great thus far.”

Is Grant ready to take over at strong safety?

“Richie played a lot of special teams last year and did a great job,” Perry said. “Just like A.J. (Terrell) and the other guys, we are going to move things forward and try to improve on what he did his rookie year.”

Terrell is entrenched at left cornerback and showed his worth last season when he covered Stefon Diggs regardless of where Diggs lined up in the Buffalo game.

“The thing about A.J. is he’s always hungry,” Perry said. “He’s always trying to get better at the basics. He always wants to improve in every capacity of the game. He wants to continue to get better to see how good he can be.”

Hall played in 14 games as a rookie and made a start.

“We put all of these guys in the same boat,” Perry said. “All of these guys are young. Isaiah has some experience. Darren was a rookie last year. So, it’s a good thing. We have a pretty young unit, and everybody can kind of continue to improve and follow the leaders in the secondary.”

Alford, of Griffin, played at Tusculum (2016-19), is 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds. He starred in the Canadian Football League for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last season and led the team with four interceptions and was second on the team in tackles with 48.

Alford was named all-CFL and helped Winnipeg to an 11-3 record and the Grey Cup title.

The offseason program has helped Alford and most of the new players.

“I think it is invaluable,” Perry said. “It’s well-rounded. I mean, we have a diverse group. It’s well-rounded in that every day is enriching with these guys. … They are competitive, they compete with each other. They compete in every aspect of the game. It’s been a very interactive group.”

The secondary spends a lot of time on situational football.

“Everything from code words, to ball skills, to moving around, to tackling,” Perry said. “So, these guys are pretty hungry. They are trying to get better, faster.”

(AJC writer John Riker contributed to this item.)

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Falcons assistant defensive backs coach Nick Perry was interviewed by members of the media during OTAs on May 26 in Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Falcons assistant defensive backs coach Nick Perry was interviewed by members of the media during OTAs on May 26 in Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons assistant defensive backs coach Nick Perry was interviewed by members of the media during OTAs on May 26 in Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

2. Big-play department: One of the things that defensive coordinator Dean Pees pointed out was that the defense didn’t give up a lot of big plays last season.

The Falcons’ explosive pass-rate percentage ranked 19th in the NFL, as they gave up 51 pass plays of 20 yards or more over 587 plays (9%), according to sharpfootballanalysis.com.

The Falcons’ explosive-run percentage ranked 13th in the league, as they gave up 56 plays of 10 yards or more over 519 plays (11%).

The Falcons ranked 29th in scoring defense, so they made people move slowly. Now they must figure out how to get some stops and to hold teams to field goals.

ExploreComplete Falcons coverage from the AJC

3. Troy Andersen update: Falcons assistant linebackers coach Frank Bush is working with second-round draft pick Troy Andersen.

“You have to find the things that will help him get to the athlete,” Bush said. “Right now he’s in a learning mode. He’s trying to figure the thing out. Although, we like him as a linebacker, that’s where he played well at Montana State. He does not know our language.”

The Falcons are focusing on teaching Andersen the intricacies of their 3-4 defense.

“The faster he learns stuff, the faster you’ll see the player on the field,” Bush said. “He’s trending. He’s doing the right things. I can only say good things about the kid. He’s humble. He’s there to learn every day. He doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s starting to show his skill set the more that he learns.”

Andersen is trying to make the jump from the FCS level. Last season, Grant tried to make the jump from a strong Group of Five program. Grant spent most of the season on special teams and at nickel back.

“But it’s a process, and I like where he is in the process,” Bush said of Andersen. “He’s a humble kid. He’s extremely intelligent. … We’re just going to stay with the process. We’ll see where it comes out. I’m happy with him, but it is a difficult process that he’s got to go through.”

(AJC columnist Michael Cunningham contributed to this item.)

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons linebacker Troy Anderson on his first rookie minicamp

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

4. Red helmets: The Falcons recently unveiled their throwback red helmets. Why?

I called for the banning of anything “throwback” in 2017.

“Throw-away the Throwback jersey. What you have here is the marketing people running the football operation. There is no reason for the Falcons, who didn’t have consecutive winning seasons until 2008 and 2009, to ever wear their throwback jerseys. They only wear them to sell jerseys. The football operation must stand up and ban the throwback jerseys before the inexplicable losses start to mount.”

Nothing good could come of this, especially with the plan to wear them against former NFC West foe San Francisco.

I asked one scribe, how many more sacks will this magical red helmet bring? The answer was “zero.”

5. Mandatory minicamp: The Falcons’ mandatory minicamp is set for Tuesday through Thursday. (The coach speaks before the practice. We kind of need him after the practice so we can ask questions about what we thought we saw or didn’t see.)

6. A.J. Terrell’s camp: Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell tweeted about partnering with the NFLPA for his youth football camp that is set for June 18 at Lakewood Stadium.

There are 300 spots, with registration required.

7. Titans, Bears. The Falcons signed Cameron Batson, a wide receiver and return specialist, the team recently announced.

Batson previously played for the Titans, where he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

When Batson signed with the Titans, Falcons coach Arthur Smith was the Titans’ tight ends coach and Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota was their starting quarterback. Batson’s first NFL reception was on a pass thrown to him by Mariota in 2018.

The Falcons released offensive lineman Rashaad Coward to make room for Batson.

The Falcons have loaded up on former Titans and Bears this offseason. Former Bears general manager Ryan Pace and some staff members from the team now are with the Falcons.

8. Kyle Pitts check-in: Second-year tight end Kyle Pitts is working on the mental side of his game. Here’s the story that Gabe Burns wrote on Pitts.

9. Falcons depth chart: Here’s our working unofficial offseason depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR – Bryan Edwards, Cordarrelle Patterson, Frank Darby, Cameron Batson, KhaDarel Hodge, Stanley Berryhill

TE – Kyle Pitts, Brayden Lenius, Tucker Fisk

LT – Jake Matthews, Tyler Vrabel, Leroy Watson

LG – Jalen Mayfield, Colby Gossett, Justin Shaffer

C – Drew Dalman or Matt Hennessy

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Elijah Wilkinson, Rick Leonard

TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, John Raine, John FitzPatrick

WR – Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Geronimo Allison, Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Austin Trammell, Jared Bernhardt, Tyshaun James

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison, Jeremy McNichols, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams, Tyler Allgeier

FB – Keith Smith

QB – Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, Feleipe Franks

DEFENSE

DE – Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

NT – Vincent Taylor, Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham, Timothy Horne

DE – Nick Thurman, Bryce Rodgers, Derrick Tangelo

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Jordan Brailford, Arnold Ebiketie

ILB – Deion Jones, Mykal Walker, Troy Andersen

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Dorian Etheridge, Nick Kwaitkoski, Nathan Landman

OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Quinton Bell, Rashad Smith, DeAngelo Malone, Kuony Deng

LCB – A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts

FS (Left) – Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Brad Hawkins

SS (Right) – Richie Grant, Teez Tabor, Tre Webb

RCB – Casey Hayward, Isaiah Oliver, Dee Alford, Matt Hankins

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P – Dom Maggio, Seth Vernon

LS – Liam McCullough

H – Dom Maggio

PR – Avery Williams

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, Cameron Batson

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