Falcons look to Lowery to fill safety hole

Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is discussing Dwight Lowery’s attributes and contemplating his fit with the team before eventually arriving at the bottom line.

“The biggest thing is we need a safety to start and that’s what he’s competing for,” Nolan said. “Hopefully he’s that guy. If not him then one of the other guys will have to do it.”

If it’s not Lowery, then the Falcons would be caught short on experience. None of the other free safeties on the roster have played significant NFL snaps.

The Falcons needed a safety to start alongside William Moore after they released Thomas DeCoud in March following his worst season as a pro. They signed Lowery to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum and used a third-round draft pick to select Wisconsin prospect Dezmen Southward.

Lowery has a track record: He’s started 41 of 68 games over six pro seasons and has earned a reputation as a solid cover man. Plus, Lowery has played in a defense similar to Nolan’s.

But the Falcons offered Lowery no assurances that he would be penciled in as a starter.

“When they signed me, they told me they were going to look to draft another safety,” Lowery said. “It’s a position they felt like they needed to shore up and get better at. One-year deal, fill my role and do whatever the team asks — that’s all I’m really looking at.”

Lowery started his career as a cornerback with the Jets in 2008. He was productive playing the ball with 13 passes broken up, five forced fumbles and one interception in 16 games with 10 starts.

When the Jets fired coach Eric Mangini after the season, new coach Rex Ryan had a different plan for Lowery. Ryan and Nolan share similar philosophies and schemes.

After starting eight of 27 games for the Jets in 2009 and 2010, Lowery was a full-time starter for the Jaguars over the past three seasons. Pro Football Focus gave Lowery high marks for his 2011 season and rated him as essentially average in 2012. Lowery’s season ended after just three games in 2013 when he suffered a concussion and was placed on injured reserve.

Lowery made $3.1 million with the Jaguars last season. With the Falcons he has a chance to show he can still be an effective starting safety, and the team plans to take advantage of his experience covering receivers.

“Coverage ability, but also understanding football and what offenses are trying to do with different formations and different matchups,” Lowery said of his strengths. “Having experience playing throughout the secondary, being able to cover different types of athletes—that’s something that’s definitely my strong suit.”

Also notable is Lowery’s history of sure tackling: Pro Football Focus credits him with 21 missed tackles in 212 career attempts with 40 “stops,” which it defines as tackles resulting in offensive failures. Tackling was a major issue for DeCoud, who according to Pro Football Focus had 12 misses in 62 attempts with 13 stops in 2013.

After Lowery was hurt in 2013 the Jaguars eventually replaced him in the lineup with rookie Josh Evans. Similarly, Lowery will face a challenge from Southward when the Falcons open training camp in July.

Coach Mike Smith said Lowery’s presence doesn’t mean it gives the Falcons insurance to bring Southward along slowly.

“We want him to compete for a starting job,” Smith said. “We want all of our guys to have that mindset. Dwight is an experienced player (with) a lot of games under his belt. Dez, we like his skill-set. He can run. He just has to learn the system. He will get an opportunity to compete with Dwight and the other guys.”

Notes:

  • Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, out since having foot surgery last October, did some light running and cutting on the side during the final day of team activities for this week. Also out because of injury were linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee), defensive tackle Corey Peters (Achilles), safety Zeke Motta (neck) and tight end Andrew Szczerba (undisclosed).
  • Smith said he expects wide receiver Roddy White to participate in team activities next week. White missed last week and this week while mourning the shooting death of his brother.

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