Falcons’ Arthur Smith: ‘I’m excited to see what Dee Alford can do’

Atlanta Falcons defensive back Dee Alford has impressed coaches during minicamp. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Falcons defensive back Dee Alford has impressed coaches during minicamp. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons, in need of help in the secondary this offseason, looked north of the border to the Canadian Football League.

The Falcons signed Dee Alford, a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber who played at Tusculum (2016-19), to a reserve/futures contract in January. Alford, who is from Griffin and played at Spalding High, helped the Blue Bombers win the Grey Cup last season.

ExploreFalcons’ Kyle Pitts made spectacular TD catch to close minicamp

“I’m excited about some of these other guys that we brought in,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m excited to see what Dee Alford can do. He’s a guy you got to keep your eyes on.”

Alford has been used at mostly right and left cornerback. He was matched up against first-round pick Drake London and KhaDarel Hodge while playing right cornerback in the seven-on-seven passing drills Wednesday during minicamp.

The ball didn’t come his way, but his coverage was tight.

“He was a cool get late in the year by our personnel staff and a guy that’s been here,” Smith said. “Those guys do a phenomenal job. We worked him out. There are some traits that we liked, and we’re going to continue to work with him and develop him.”

Alford, 24, is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.

He played 40 games at Tusculum and had a school-record 40 career pass breakups and 195 career interception-return yards. His 10 career interceptions rank third in school history. His 50 career punt returns and 547 career punt-return yards both rank third in school history. His 10.94 punt-return average is fourth in school history.

“I couldn’t be happier for Dee on this great opportunity,” Tusculum coach Jerry Odom said. “Dee is extremely talented, has a great mindset, he’s hardworking and is a humble young man.”

ExploreRookie Desmond Ridder has mastered calling Falcons offense

Alford made the All-South Atlantic Conference team three times and was first team as a senior. He was also named to the 2019 D2 Conference Commissioner’s Association All-Super Region 2 Team.

“Right after Tusculum, I finished my senior season, and it was 2020, the pandemic year,” Alford said. “I talked to a few teams and set up a Pro Day and stuff like that. But due to the pandemic, everything was canceled.”

He landed a deal with the Blue Bombers.

“They saw my film and liked my film,” Alford said. “They gave me a contract. I had to go to Canada and work my way back to where I’m at right now. I just have to show people that I belong.”

During the 2021 season, Alford won a starting job. He helped the Bombers lead the league in defense. He was named a CFL All-Star as they went on to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-25 to win the Grey Cup, the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl.

“I'm excited to see what Dee Alford can do. He's a guy you got to keep your eyes on."

- Falcons coach Arthur Smith

“It was a hard journey,” Alford said. “But that’s just the type of guy that I am. I’m a hard worker. I’ve got great teammates. Just doing whatever it takes to achieve my goals.”

Alford looks back fondly on his time in Canada.

“We actually won the Grey Cup,” Alford said. “I got rookie of the year for my team. CFL All-Star, CFL Western Division All-Star. It was just a great journey. A lot of the guys in the CFL, man, there are some great players. I feel like more guys could play here at this level.”

Defending receivers in the CFL, where they can get a running start to the line of scrimmage, puts the defensive backs in bad situations.

“The waggle, that’s what separates the CFL from the NFL,” Alford said. “The receivers get a jump-start with that running start. Being a defensive back, it just helps you get your footwork better.”

So during OTAs and minicamp with the Falcons, Alford had to get used to the wide receivers not having that running start again.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot was with the Saints when they signed defensive back Erik Harris, who now plays for the Falcons and who was a Division II player for California (Pa.), out of the CFL. He also was with the Saints when they signed former Stephenson standout Marcus Ball to a three-year deal after a stint with the Toronto Argonauts.

Former Falcons outside linebacker James Vaughters also jump-started his career in the CFL.

Harris played with the Tiger-Cats before he signed a reserve/futures contract with the Saints on Feb. 3, 2016.

Alford is familiar with Harris’ story.

“When I began the journey to work out for different NFL teams, a guy on my Winnipeg team named Alden Darby, he (contacted) Erik Harris for me,” Alford said. “I realized that we had a similar background when it comes to playing in the CFL. I (contacted) him before I actually came here with the Atlanta Falcons. He gave me some great advice. He’s just a great teammate. He’s more like a brother than a teammate.”

The Falcons have 10 cornerbacks on their 90-man roster. Last season, they had five cornerbacks on the opening-day roster and one on the practice squad.

Of those six, only A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall and Isaiah Oliver are still with the team at cornerback. Avery Williams was moved to running back. Fabian Moreau and Chris Williamson were not re-signed.

The Falcons didn’t draft any cornerbacks, but signed veteran Casey Hayward in free agency.

The other corners for the Falcons are Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts and Matt Hankins.

“It’s very competitive,” Alford said. “Like the coaches say, this counts. So no one has a spot. Every spot is open.”

Alford said he can play inside at the nickel spot and play on special teams.

“I’m just that team player doing whatever to achieve the ultimate goal, which is to win the Super Bowl,” Alford said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Falcons defensive back Dee Alford helped lead Winnipeg to the Grey Cup last season. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

Atlanta Falcons defensive back Dee Alford helped lead Winnipeg to the Grey Cup last season. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Falcons defensive back Dee Alford helped lead Winnipeg to the Grey Cup last season. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

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

The Bow Tie Chronicles