Rico Allen’s days on the practice squad paid off for the free safety.
And the Falcons.
Allen, who was drafted in the fifth round as a cornerback out of Purdue in 2014, had to play four positions in the 34-20 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday due to in-game injuries to the Falcons secondary.
A slew of injuries to Desmond Trufant (concussion), Brian Poole (lower back) and Robert Alford (undisclosed), had Allen moving around the secondary like a vagabond. He played his free safety position, nickel cornerback, outside cornerback and strong safety at different times in the game.
Allen was cut as a rookie and started his career on the Falcons’ practice squad. He received valuable experience.
“The practice squad was the best place to be, but one of the worse feelings,” Allen said. “As a player and competitor, all you are doing is practicing. It helped me so much. It taught me how to train and how to take it day by day.”
When Falcons coach Dan Quinn was hired in 2015, his staff converted Allen to free safety and that’s been his main spot over the past three seasons.
“When it came to studying this defense, when I came off the practice squad, I was like, I’m just going got learn every position,” Allen said. “No matter what, I’m doing whatever I can to get on the field.”
While Allen never thought he’d have to play four positions in one game, he was ready when called upon.
“In this game he played corner, nickel, free safety and then down in the box at strong safety,” Quinn said. “There were two plays that stick out to me and both of them when he was not playing safety.”
With the Falcons up 27-20, Allen had the key stop on third-and-2 from Atlanta’s 19-yard line of Tampa Bay wide receiver Adam Humphries for a one-yard gain.
“We were really counting on him,” Quinn said. “It’s a real tribute for guys like him to stand up when needed.”
Allen did not hesitate when the Falcons needed him to float aroud the secondary and put out fires. He hadn’t played cornerback since he was a rookie.
“They got into a stack, and you know what was cool about that, like he’s had zero reps doing that, but his knowledge of the defense and how we play allowed him to function at a really high level,” Quinn said. “Then on the second play, I thought really good by (Dontari) Poe, and then exactly like we’d want from (Keanu Neal) where the play was there and he could play the defender’s top shoulder where he could still defend the play, but then have a way to come in and get the pass breakup.
Neal and Allen were there to help Damontae Kazee.
“I love the connection that those two have at safety and how they play off one another,” Quinn said.
Allen made a form tackle of Humphries to stop him cold.
“Yeah, and when you have space, because it was going to be a pass that was going to be on third-and-2, how do you stop it for that short when you’re playing man-to-man?” Quinn said. “So, you’d better be up and play it aggressively. But it was the tackle that was the real factor. When that tackle happened, there were zero yards after contact, and that one lit all of us up in a good way.”
Reserve cornerback C.J. Goodwin was also pressed into service.
He made the team last season after being converted from wide receiver. He’s continue to improve through the team’s developmental program.
Goodwin was a former college basketball player who got a tryout from the Steelers after Mel Blount gave them a call on his behalf.
Goodwin was a target by the Buccaneers after taking over for Trufant when he left with a concussion.
“When you go back, you realize he was really in early to this game due to the injury,” Quinn said. “That’s a good story there to say if you have the right mindset to go after something and you go through the Plan D program and put the work in, your opportunity will be there.”
Goodwin played 47 of 71 (66 percent) of the defensive snaps.
“It was nice to get my feet wet this season,” Goodwin said.
Kazee played 32 snaps (45 percent). Sharrod Neasman also played one snap at strong safety.
“(Goodwin) certainly has made his biggest impact on special teams being outside at gunner, but when your opportunity is called and you put the work in, you should feel confident that you’re ready because we certainly are confident in him,” Quinn said.
Goodwin is ready if Trufant misses another game. Trufant is in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“I have to know what I’m supposed to do,” Goodwin said. “Anything can happen in this league. I have to stay ready.”
Goodwin also enjoys his gunner duties on special teams.
“Don’t get touched,” Goodwin said. “I’m a pretty fast guy and I have to use my speed.
That’s one of the purest forms of football that that you can play.”
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