Falcons’ A.J. Terrell wants to make more plays on the ball in 2023

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell has established himself in the NFL, which led the franchise to pick up his $12.34 million fifth-year option over the offseason.

As he heads into his fourth season, the Westlake High and Clemson standout plans on continued improvement that could lead to a hefty contract extension.

“Getting turnovers,” Terrell said about things he want to build on. “Finding the ball any way possible. Punching the ball out. Getting PBUs (pass break ups), interceptions. Anything where I can get my hand on the ball.”

Terrell flashed his skills for disrupting pass plays in the end zone in training-camp practice Friday.

“I was just doing my job and protecting the back line, and I made a play on it,” Terrell said.

The breakup caught the attention of Falcons coach Arthur Smith.

“A.J. made a good play in the red zone down there,” Smith said. “I think Jeff (Okudah) is playing really good football, right now. You can feel their size out there on the back end. You feel (safeties) Jessie (Bates), Richie (Grant) and Hawk (Jaylinn Hawkins). I love what’s going on back there. I’m fired up about what’s going on back there.”

Terrell is set to man the left cornerback spot. He was drafted 16th overall in the 2020 NFL draft and has started 44 games over three seasons.

Terrell, who by the end of his rookie season was matching up with the opposition’s top receiver, has 202 tackles, 32 pass breakups, seven tackles for loss, four interceptions and a forced fumble. He was named All-Pro second team after the 2021 season.

Terrell will continue to have a major role under new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

“All we are focusing on right now, and this goes for the whole defense is fundamentals and technique,” Nielsen said. “Understand your job and where you fit with in the scheme and then a satisfactory manner of production and effort. How we want to finish, and that’s with all of the guys.”

Then he addressed Terrell.

“There’s a lot in that,” Nielsen said. “We press. We play off. We (have) special coverages and things like that. He’s got to master all of those things and then do it just a little bit better. Then the end result will take care of itself.”

Terrell believes that he’s off to good start.

“We are building chemistry now,” Terrell said. “We are making plays. Just getting the basics down.”

In addition to a new defensive coordinator, the Falcons moved assistant coach Steve Jackson from the offense to coach the secondary. They also hired Jerry Gray as the assistant head coach/defense.

“Great coaches,” Terrell said. “The way their relationship is out on the field, you can tell they played together. They’ve already given us (information) on a lot of things, a lot of tips. I like the background with coach Jackson and coach Gray. With them pointing things out to us, making us play fast and just be free. There is nothing more that we can ask for. We are playing real fast right now.”

Terrell is fine with all of the different styles of play that he’ll be ask to perform.

“That’s the thing, just being able to flexible with everybody being able to do it all within zone and man, play free just, being able to make plays on the ball,” Terrell said.

Terrell, who probably won’t play much in the exhibition games, is going against Drake London in practice to ready for the season. He said London is playing like he runs the 40-yard dash in “4.2″ seconds.

“It’s always fun going into camp,” Terrell said. “You never know what you are going to produce out there on the field. You’re always ready with whatever the roster is going into camp. Everybody always feels like they have all of the pieces and can put things together. So, right now, we are just building the chemistry and getting everything down.”

The Falcons added cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Tre Flowers, Breon Borders, Natrone Brooks and Clark Phillips III over the offseason. Dee Alford, Cornell Armstrong and Darren Hall are back.

“I know that we have depth defensively, and that’s all you can ask for because there is going to be a lot of competition this camp,” Terrell said. “We are doing that right now, at all positions. Linebacker, (defensive) line and (on) the back end. Having a lot of bodies and people knowing what to do if somebody, God forbid, goes down, that’s major being able to have depth.”

The Bow Tie Chronicles

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) runs with the ball after a catch during minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Camp on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga.

 Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez