Kendell Sheffield back to help save the Falcons’ secondary

With the Falcons down two cornerbacks, the return of Kendall Sheffield from an injured foot was celebrated like a new national holiday.

It seemed like “Kendall Sheffield Day” in Flowery Branch on Thursday.

“We’ve certainly been missing him,” Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “To get our guy Sheff back, is certainly a joyous day for all of us.”

Sheffield, a second-year player from Ohio State, returned to practice Thursday and was listed as a full participant on the official injury report. There’s a lot of pressure on him, as the Falcons (0-3) are set to face the dynamic Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (3-0) at 8:15 p.m. Monday at Lambeau Field.

The Falcons are hoping that the return of Sheffield will stabilize a shaky secondary that’s been giving up big plays by the bushel.

During the open portion of practice, Sheffield appeared fluid and glided smoothly into his back pedal. He’d been out with the foot injury since the middle of August.

The timing of Sheffield’s recovery was perfect for the Falcons, who lost first-round pick A.J. Terrell to the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, and Darqueze Dennard, his replacement at left cornerback, was placed on the injured reserve list Monday with a hamstring injury and will miss at least three games.

Sheffield, who started mostly at nickel back last season as a rookie, is set to take over at left cornerback. He was listed with the first-team defense on the franchise’s official depth chart for the Green Bay game.

Because of NFL-wide COVID-19 protocols, there is no open locker room for media, and Sheffield was not made available to discuss his return.

“He’s excited and we are, too, to get him back into the mix,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

Sheffield, who was taken in the fourth round of the draft last year out of Ohio State, played nickel back as a rookie.

Sheffield played in all 16 games and made 11 starts. He finished the season with 46 tackles, three passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Sheffield played 708 defensive snaps (67%) and 142 snaps on special teams (23.8%).

Before the injury, Sheffield was expected to battle with Isaiah Oliver for the starting right cornerback position.

Gil Brandt, a former NFL executive and a Pro Football Hall of Fame member, picked Sheffield as his projected breakout player of 2020 for the Falcons.

“Another guy in Atlanta is Kendall Sheffield, a defensive back from Ohio State,” Brandt said on SiriusXM NFL Radio after mentioning right guard Chris Lindstrom as one of his breakout players. “He’s a corner. He can run fast. He’s got nice height. I think he’s a guy who played some last year. I look for him to have a really, really good season as a corner there. They need help at corner, and I think he’ll do it.”

The Falcons are giving up 463.3 yards per game, including 350.3 yards passing, which both rank 31st in the league.

The Falcons have given up 17 pass plays of 20 yards or more, including a 58-yarder against Dallas in their second game.

“He’s brings speed,” Morris said. “He brings ball awareness, and he brings toughness.”

The Falcons are hoping that Sheffield doesn’t have a setback after practicing.

“We’re happy to see him get back out there and practice,” Morris said. “Let’s get him through one day at a time. Let’s get him through this Wednesday (and get him back) for practice on Thursday. See where we are tomorrow and keep going from that point until the Monday night game. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to get him on the grass.”

The Falcons hope Sheffield can help cut down the big plays. Green Bay’s top wide receiver, Davante Adams (hamstring) returned to practice Thursday. In a 37-30 win over the Saints, Allen Lazard, stepped up in the top role and caught six passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. He had long gains of 72 and 48 yards, but ESPN reported he’s out indefinitely after he underwent surgery for core muscle injury.

“With Sheffield, everybody knows it’s the speed,” Quinn said. “He’s got extreme ability and speed outside. He can stay on top of routes.”

The Falcons could move Sheffield around with Adams or put him on the speedy Lazard.

“The matchups allow you to put him in a number of spaces,” Quinn said. “He’s got both experience at nickel and at corner.”

The Falcons hope that right cornerback Isaiah Oliver can get it together quickly and that he doesn’t get exposed by Rodgers. Oliver has had at least three dropped interceptions, a key missed tackle against the Bears and has given up deep passes against Dallas and Seattle.

“So, if we can get Isaiah to take advantage of the opportunities that he’s been given because he’s a ball-skill guy, because he has elite hands, because he can catch the ball, you looking a player who can turn this thing around quickly," Morris said. "I’m really looking forward to him doing that this week.”

Also, Jordan Miller has returned from serving his four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

“We do have a role assigned for him right now,” Morris said. “He’ll try to slide in there and give us a little relief at nickel. That will be the first role we are thinking about behind Blidi (Wreh-Wilson). You have to have bodies that can go in those positions. We’ll see what he looks like in practice today.”

If Sheffield helps the Falcons stop Rodgers and the Packers, maybe they will have a parade of “Kendall Sheffield Days.”

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