Cover 9@9: Falcons won’t rush Isaiah Oliver back from knee injury

Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver (right) won't be rushed back after knee surgery, coach Arthur Smith said. (Seth Wenig/AP)

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Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver (right) won't be rushed back after knee surgery, coach Arthur Smith said. (Seth Wenig/AP)

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons coach Arthur Smith plans to let cornerback Isaiah Oliver have the time he needs to fully recover from his right knee surgery.

“We have to bring Isaiah along,” Smith said. “He’s itching to get back out there, but we’ll be smart with Isaiah.”

Oliver had found a role at nickel back for the Falcons before he was injured Oct. 3.

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“We’ll see how he’s coming along,” Smith said. “I don’t want to put a timeline on it because that’s not fair to Isaiah. He’s itching to go, but we’re not going to put somebody out there who’s not ready.”

Oliver was limited during the first open OTA last week. If he can make it back, that would help to stabilize the secondary at nickel back. The Falcons are not going to press the issue over the offseason.

“You’ll see Isaiah go through some modified individual work,” Smith said. “But we’ve got to find somebody to play consistent in the nickel spot. Darren Hall needs to continue to develop.”

Safety Richie Grant ended up getting most of the nickel-back snaps. He’s slotted for strong safety, which leaves the opening at nickel back.

Smith believes the competition will be fierce.

“I’m excited about some of these other guys that we brought it,” Smith said. “I’m excited to see what Dee Alford can do. He’s a guy you got to keep your eyes on. He was a cool get late in the year by our personnel staff and a guy that’s been here.”

Alford is not the only player who could make a push in the secondary.

“Corey Ballentine, the list goes on,” Smith said. “Mike Ford, a guy that (special-teams coordinator) Marquice (Williams) has worked with, who’s been a really good gunner in this league.”

The Falcons don’t plan to hand the safety spots to Grant and third-year man Jaylinn Hawkins.

“If they don’t win the job, then it’s not fair to the rest of the guys back there at safety,” Smith said. “But, yeah, there’s expectation for Richie and Jaylinn. Erik (Harris) is back to find a role. Dean Marlowe. We signed a guy out of rookie camp, Tre Webb. We signed an undrafted guy in (Matt) Hankins. We’ve got good depth back there.”

2A. Bryan Cox back in the game: Catching up to this. Congrats to former Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox, a Super Bowl winner and three-time Pro Bowl selection as a player, who was hired as the assistant defensive line coach for the Giants.

Cox last worked in the NFL as the Falcons’ defensive line coach from 2014-16. He was credited with helping Grady Jarrett get started, and he coached Vic Beasley to that 15.5-sack season. He was fired three days after the historic collapse in Super Bowl LI. It was a crime that he was out of the league for so long.

Talked to him during the pandemic for a story, and he wanted to get back in. He learned some lessons on how to relate to today’s players and should do just fine with the Giants.

2B. Class of 2019: With the recent releases of cornerback Kendall Sheffield and defensive lineman John Cominsky, both fourth-round picks, the Falcons are down to three players from the 2019 draft.

Right guard Chris Lindstrom, right tackle Kaleb McGary and running back Qadree Ollison are the only remaining players.

Cornerback Jordan Miller and wide receiver Marcus Green (sixth round) also were selected in that draft.

Sheffield was claimed off waivers by the Texans, and Cominsky was claimed by the Lions.

Miller is with the Saints, while Green spent some time with the Eagles and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

3. Fabian Moreau signed by Houston: Cornerback Fabian Moreau, who was not re-signed by the Falcons, signed with the Texans on Tuesday.

Moreau started 16 games for the Falcons last season. He played 1,037 defensive snaps (95%). He was targeted 88 times and gave up 55 receptions for 647 yards and eight touchdowns.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons assistant Dean Pees on the defense improving next season.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

4. Deion Jones watch: He’s the last elephant in the room that general manager Terry Fontenot referred to at the NFL scouting combine, when he mentioned four hefty contracts that the Falcons had on the books.

“(That’s) the elephant in the room, right?” Fontenot said. “We have some big numbers associated with four players.”

After losing the Deshaun Watson derby, the Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts and took on a $40.5 million dead salary-cap hit. The Falcons extended left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive end Jarrett’s contracts to lower their salary-cap numbers for 2022.

Jones’ deal has not been touched, and he now has the highest salary-cap number on the team at $20 million for the 2022 season.

Jones had shoulder surgery and will miss the offseason program.

The Falcons expect Jones, who went to the Pro Bowl after the 2017 season, to be ready for training camp in late July.

“We’ll see where it goes with Deion,” Smith said. “He got something cleaned up in the offseason. So, he’s not going to be out there anyways. He’s rehabbing. He should be ready to go by camp.”

5. Marlowe reaches out to Uvalde survivor: Marlowe has reached out to a survivor of the Uvalde school shooting who was interviewed on national television wearing his No. 21 jersey.

Daniel Ruiz appeared with his mother on CNN over the weekend from outside Robb Elementary School in Texas. He wore Marlowe’s red Falcons jersey and a team hat during the interview.

6. Falcons ranked 32nd: Westgate SuperBook has the Falcons ranked last (32nd) in the power rankings.

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

There are 300 spots, with registration required.

8. Anthony Firkser’s camp: Falcons tight end Anthony Firkser will host his second annual youth football camp Sunday in Franklin, Tenn.

All proceeds from the camp go toward The Aloe Family (www.thealoefamily.com), a nonprofit that Firkser works closely with.

The Aloe Family’s mission is to provide opportunities for education, well-being, self-sufficiency and healing to resilient communities and individuals facing challenges of poverty and lack of family support.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Receiver Bryan Edwards on being traded to the Falcons.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

9. Falcons’ depth chart: Here’s a look at the current “unofficial” depth chart:

OFFENSE

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

TE – Kyle Pitts, Ryan Becker, Brayden Lenius, Tucker Fisk

LT – Jake Matthews, Tyler Vrabel, Leroy Watson

LG – Jalen Mayfield, Colby Gossett, Rashaad Coward, 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, 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

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons assistant coach T.J. Yates on rookie receiver Drake London.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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