Falcons’ A.J. Terrell ready to start working in revamped secondary

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell is getting used to all of the new faces at Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

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Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell is getting used to all of the new faces at Flowery Branch. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

FLOWERY BRANCH — For Falcons left cornerback A.J. Terrell, it was like a “meet and greet” social at the first day of the offseason program Tuesday.

“We’ve got so many new faces,” Terrell said. “I wasn’t really focused on any of that. But, you know, those guys that are gone now definitely will be missed, but they all helped set the platform of what we’ve got now to help carry on the legacy.”

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The Falcons elected to move on from two key starters in the secondary in Duron Harmon, who played 1,072 (92%) of the defensive snaps, and Fabian Moreau, who played 1,037 (95%) over 16 starts at right cornerback.

The team re-signed nickel back Isaiah Oliver and free safety Erik Harris.

Oliver played well as the nickel back over the first four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Harris started 12 games and played 703 snaps.

The Falcons signed veteran Casey Hayward, a former Pro Bowler, to take over at right cornerback. Richie Grant, who was a second-round pick last season, will get a shot to replace Harmon.

“Just winning the day,” Terrell said about how the group will attempt to move forward. “Just going in right now. Taking notes, building chemistry on the back end. It all will just come together. I don’t really know how to say it, but just time will do that. When we get out there on the field, (we must) communicate and talk with each other.”

The Falcons’ pass defense was plagued by not having much of a pass rush as they were last in the NFL in sacks, with 18.

Also, the front office must have thought that the coverage could improve drastically at strong safety and right cornerback, given the offseason moves.

The Falcons allowed 232.5 yards passing per game, which ranked 18th in the league. Teams really didn’t have to pass too much because they could run against the defense, which gave up 131.9 yards per game, which ranked 27th.

But all that work to improve starts with the offseason program.

“So not being able to see the faces and me not being in the same meeting room (his first offseason of virtual meetings),” Terrell said. “Just sitting, you know, being with the guys it’s a different ballgame. But now we get to see each other. We get to lock in and ask questions. You get to know about each other a little bit more.”

Terrell is looking forward to playing alongside Hayward.

“Just the knowledge and everything he has on me being a young player and being able to get under his wings and ask questions,” Terrell said. “I’ll know about little things going into games. I mean, just being able to pick his brain and then also just being able to vibe with him outside of football.”

Terrell and Hayward are represented by the same agent (David Mulugheta) and were familiar with each other.

“So, it’s not my first time meeting him,” Terrell said. “It’s just on a more personal level.”

Hayward, who played at Perry High and Vanderbilt, was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2017 and 2018 seasons when he was with the Chargers. He played last season with the Raiders.

“Throughout (last) season, I actually really watched a lot of his film,” Hayward said of Terrell. “I understand the defense that they play. I think it fits me as well. I’m excited to be here, to get better, to be home and go out there and compete.”

Hayward, who’s set to enter his 11th season, looks forward to playing with Terrell.

“It’s kind of dope,” Hayward said. “Besides me being in Green Bay, I don’t think I’ve ever had a running mate on the other side as talented as A.J. When I was with the Chargers, we had Jason Verrett, and he was probably one of the most talented guys I’ve ever been around.

“But he was hurt when I was there. Then we had a bunch of free-agent guys. ... I’ve played with a lot of pretty good guys, but not as talented as A.J. is. The guy is super talented.”

Terrell, who’s set to enter his third season, is one of the more tenured players on the Falcons’ defense.

“That’s crazy,” Terrell said. “It doesn’t even make sense. That is crazy, though.”

Terrell took note of the lucrative five-year, $100.5 million contract that Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward signed Monday.

“Congrats to him for that big deal,” Terrell said. “If I keep playing my part and doing my role, everything will just go hand in hand. Not looking too far ... just doing what I need to do now to get to that point.”

But the work starts now for the 2022 season.

“We are just building,” Terrell said. “Everybody is just coming together and doing their part.”

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