Falcons top defenders embracing change

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Falcons are laying the foundation to rebuild one of the NFL’s weaker defenses.

Linebacker Foye Oluokun and left cornerback A.J. Terrell, two of the unit’s top performers in 2020, are blending into the operation under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

The Falcons will switch their base defense to a 3-4, but they’ll run multiple alignments to match up with the opposition’s offense.

“Really, it’s just a lot of things we can throw at you as we get going in training camp, and maybe as we see more offenses, we’ll learn exactly how we are going to attack those offenses using our different schemes that we have,” Oluokun said Wednesday.

Oluokun looks forward to working with Pees.

“I hear great things about Dean,” Oluokun said. “I’m definitely excited to work with coach Pees. Everything that they are throwing at us, we are all like sponges, trying to get it right.”

Terrell has enjoyed the offseason program, which he didn’t have last year as a rookie.

“I feel like this defense gives us a variety of the things we can do with whether it just be anything (from playing) all of the coverages, zones or the blitzes,” Terrell said. “Just very multiple, and everybody is hands on and active during the defense. That’s something that I look forward to this year.”

Oluokun led the Falcons in tackles last season, with 117. He also had three sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and nine quarterback hits.

The Falcons will attempt to match up better with opposing offenses.

“Depending on what the other team thinks they do well, I think we’re going to have an answer for it,” Oluokun said. “We’re not always going to line up in the same defense week in, week out.”

The Falcons had the worst pass defense in the league last season. They gave up 293.6 yards per game, which ranked 32nd of 32 teams. The Falcons ranked 29th overall in yards allowed, at 398.4. The Falcons gave up 25.9 points per game, which ranked 19th.

The run defense looked stout on paper, as the Falcons gave up 104.8 yards per game, which ranked sixth in league.

Pees, who came out of retirement, has a lot of work to do to transform the defense into a respectable group.

“If we can be kind of be a swiss army knife as a unit, we can definitely have different faces week in and week out and be able to play to our advantage instead of having to play to the offense’s (strengths),” Oluokun said. “I think that’s what (multiple) means. As we get more into training camp, we’ll see exactly what it is. All the different tools that we have, and I think we’ll have a lot of them.”

Oluokun said the focus has been on winning.

“It’s definitely a little different,” Oluokun said. “… Whatever we need to do in order to win games around here is what we are going to do.”

Oluokun acknowledges that the defense is a work in progress.

“There are lot of similar concepts, but we might have played some things a little bit different,” Oluokun said. “Different nuances within this defense. It’s kind of breaking the old habits and getting on to new ones. That’s will probably be the hardest part for me.”

A couple of the potentially key cogs -- outside linebacker Dante Fowler and safety Duron Harmon – were not present during the initial OTA on Tuesday.

Fowler is moving to outside linebacker. Harmon was a 16-game starter with Detroit last season.

“Dante is going to come in ready to go for sure,” Oluokun said.

One thing the Falcons are discussing is their plan to create pressure by blitzing.

“We are going to have a lot of people rushing,” Oluokun said. “Keep the blitzes coming from all directions.”

Terrell, who started 14 games after he was selected 16th overall in the 2020 draft, hopes to improve this offseason.

He finished last season with 74 tackles, an interception, three forced fumbles and seven passes defensed.

“I want to see myself evolve and get better,” Terrell said.

A different tone is being set by the new coaching staff.

“Just accountability and selflessness,” Terrell said. “A lot of that is going on. Just holding everybody accountable is the main thing. Coming in every day to work, trying to get better and not being selfish.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there was no offseason program in 2020.

“Last year, I didn’t have this whole experience,” Terrell said. “For me, I just helping them with anything, questions anything I see out here on the field, I’ll correct them.”

Terrell doesn’t believe he’ll have a problem picking up the new defense.

“Coming in last year, I had a lot of confidence,” Terrell said. “I fit in quickly with the zone calls that we had and then finally getting in the building and making relationships with the team and coaches. I just caught on quickly. Then going into this year. I feel like I’ve been there and done that. So, now it’s like who can I help.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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