Challenges await new Falcons assistant coaches

Perhaps the Falcons gave Joe Whitt Jr. and Tosh Lupoi extra long new titles because of the difficult tasks that await them when the team opens the first phase of the offseason program April 19.

Whitt was named the secondary/defensive pass-game coordinator. Lupoi was named defensive line/defensive run-game coordinator/defensive ends coach. Both formerly worked with the Cleveland Browns.

The translation of the titles for Falcons fans is that both will be charged, in part, with developing key young members of the defense, most noticeably cornerback Isaiah Oliver and defensive end Takk McKinley.

Oliver, a second-round pick in 2018, took over for Robert Alford at right cornerback last season. It was a bumpy ride.

“I thought over the last eight games he did a good job of connecting his feet and his hands together in his press game,” Whitt said. “He stayed more square and that gave him the ability once he got up the field to connect at the top of routes. Early on in the year, he was doing some things that didn’t connect his feet and his hands. That cleaned up during the year. I think (defensive coordinator Raheem Morris) and those guys did a very nice job with that.”

McKinley, a first-round pick in 2017, started 13 of 14 games. He had 3.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits last season.

“Takk has tremendous potential,” Lupoi said. “I think the first thing that he’s doing, is that he’s already committed to is improving his shoulder. … I’ve had some good conversations with him already. (Coach Dan Quinn) has personally gone out there and seen him. He’s really proud of his progress and the way he’s attacking his health.”

Before free agency and the draft, the improvement plan of Oliver and McKinley appear to be the two quickest ways for the defense to improve.

“It’s a marriage,” Whitt said. “Pass rush and coverage is pass defense. You can’t have one really without the other.”

Improved coverage from Oliver and a double-digit sack pass-rush from McKinley would instantaneously boost the defense.

“Tosh is an excellent coach,” White said. “I’m excited to be able to work with him again because we actually see football very similar. The ability to have those guys rush and understand where they are going to be, then on the back end to make sure that we maybe make them hold the ball that extra second so that they can get to that second rush. Like I said, it’s a marriage.”

Whitt has an improvement plan for Oliver.

“The first thing is, we are going to make sure that we are doing exactly what Raheem wants,” Whitt said. “He has to make sure that he can fit in the scheme. After we get that scheme-understanding down, we are going to make sure that we can pull the ball off of people.

“That’s one thing in Green Bay that we did better than anybody in the league over those years that I was the secondary coach in Green Bay. We intercepted more balls than anybody else in the league. Hopefully, that’s what we can bring down here, and hopefully Isaiah will be a part of it.”

Falcons secondary coach/pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. 
 Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

icon to expand image

Credit: Curtis Compton

McKinley, who’s having his third shoulder surgery since he was drafted, has played in 45 games and made 21 starts. He has 16.5 sacks and 38 quarterback hits.

“I think what is glaring with Takk is that he plays the game the right way and hard,” Lupoi said. “That’s a starting point of any great player. … What’s obvious to me is this is a group that is hungry. This is a group that’s already training, doing stuff in this offseason to get ready to go and attack.”

Whitt, who was on Bobby Petrino’s Falcons staff in 2007, went on to coach 11 seasons with the Green Bay Packers (2008-18) before spending a season in Cleveland.

He has a ring from the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory over the Steelers.

He coached the great Charles Woodson and helped develop undrafted free agents Tramon Williams and Sam Shields into Pro Bowl players.

Oliver will have to listen to a coach with such a strong resume.

“Working with Wood and those guys early on, they let me know that great players want to be coached,” Whitt said. “That’s one thing that I learned it here with Lawyer Milloy is that great players want to be coached. I coach a certain way. I’m very demanding. But I want to make sure when we go out there we are giving ourselves the best chance to win.

“We don’t need any communication errors. We don’t need anything that. … It’s too hard to win in this league. So, we don’t want to beat ourselves. That’s the one thing I learned from those guys, they want to be coached. They want to be great and if you can help them, they’ll listen.”

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