Last week, in a goal-line stand late in the second quarter, Grace batted down a Case Keenum pass on third-and-goal to force the Redskins to kick a field goal.
“I was just the middle run through,” Grace said. “I saw the receiver come across my face. I saw the quarterback staring at him, so once I saw that, I just broke on the ball.”
Grace’s instincts took over.
“It wasn’t even my play to make, but I had to do what I had to do to make sure that those guys didn’t score,” Grace said.
The stand, after the Redskins got to the 1-yard line after a Ryan Neal defensive pass interference, was one of the highlights of the game for coach Dan Quinn.
While the Falcons are set at the starting linebacker spots with Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun and DeVondre Campbell, Grace’s strong play hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He certainly made a lot of plays, not just on defense,” Quinn said. “You guys have seen him take the running back out of the backfield swings. I am so excited for the improvement that he's made.”
Grace is playing on all four of the special teams, which would be required of a backup linebacker. The Falcons consider Grace a product of the “Plan D” developmental program even though he’s been with three other teams.
“He is definitely one of those guys,” Quinn said. “He's become one of the favorites because everybody knows all the work that they put in. They know the background, they know the story, they know the grind, the unseen grind that you guys haven't seen. His teammates have. He just continues to get better and I love the speed he plays with.”
Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich concurs with Quinn’s assessment of Grace.
“He’s made huge strides as far as his knowledge of the game and his football IQ,” Ulbrich said. “He has the ability to articulate the game. What is so cool is that even on the sideline of a game, where it’s very hectic and sometimes people don’t see it very well, even if they see well, they can’t articulate it well.
“But he’s been able to do that and that was something that he really struggled with previously.”
Grace’s communication and his ability to ready plays is much better.
“To hear him really start to get it and doing so the game is really starting to slow down for him,” Ulbrich said. “He’s a really good athlete who’s now able to anticipate. I think the byproduct is the plays that you are starting to see him make.”
Grace may have crossed that thin line that has been keeping on the fringe of four different NFL rosters.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Ulbrich said. “There are a lot of really good players in the group. But I think he’s definitely proved that he can play at this level.”
Grace is hoping that he’s found a home.
“Right now, I feel great,” Grace said. “I’m healthy. I know the playbook. They’ve got me out there getting a couple of reps. I’m getting everything going. Camp is going good for me right now.”
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