Second-year defensive back Damontae Kazee was the star of the Falcons’ exhibition opener.
He roamed the field like a heat-seeking missile and blew up ball carriers. He finished with 11 tackles, including nine solo hits.
Kazee is in an uphill battle to pry his way into the Falcons’ deep and talented secondary. He hopes to have another strong showing when the Falcons face the Chiefs at 7 p.m. Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I felt like everything went well,” Kazee said. “The game kind of slowed up a little bit now that it’s my second year. But I have to improve on my tackling. I have to keep my head up because that’s a big emphasis this year. I have to work on that a lot.”
Kazee was called for a penalty for lowering his helmet against the Jets.
“Yes it was,” Kazee said when asked if the call was legitimate. “I have to keep my head up. You have to face them up. Face mask to face mask now.”
Kazee played cornerback at San Diego State. The Falcons drafted him in the fifth round (146th overall) and converted him to free safety last season.
Against the Jets he spent time at free safety, cornerback and nickel back.
All of last season’s starters in the secondary are back in free safety Ricardo Allen, strong safety Keanu Neal, left cornerback Desmond Trufant, right cornerback Robert Alford and nickel back Brian Poole. The Falcons also drafted cornerback Isaiah Oliver in the second round this year.
It’s a crowded situation, but the Falcons believe they can’t have too many defensive backs. Especially, one that can find the ball and blow up carriers.
“At the end of the day, I’m just here to fill in where I need to fill in at and help my teammates out and contribute,” the humble Kazee said. “I’m trying to make it.”
Kazee played 411 snaps as a rookie. He became a mainstay on special teams and finished with 247 snaps. He played 164 snaps from scrimmage.
“You look at the guy who had a calendar year,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “Kazee, I thought, came out and he played with intensity. I thought from that standpoint he played well.”
Manuel expects Kazee to continue to blossom.
“You are watching guys compete and how do they compete,” Manuel said. “He’s been here long enough to see it and we went to know if they can buy into it.”
Kazee, while playing with most of the second team and some third-team players, took charge against the Jets.
After flashing at times last season, Kazee is clearly more comfortable in this training camp.
“Going against our ones out here in practice, it’s like that’s the best,” Kazee said. “You’ve got Matt Ryan. You’ve got Julio Jones. Going against them guys and then going against other guys in a regular game, that slows everything down.”
With no real contact in practice, tackling is a major adjustment that Kazee said he has to fix in live exhibition game action.
“We do thuds (catch and release tackles) out here and try to stay up,” Kazee said. “But when we get in the game, we saw a lot of missed tackles, for myself too, I did a lot of missed tackles. So, I have to practice on that.”
Kazee is pleased with his paths to the ball.
“Angling is still the same,” Kazee said. “We practice on that every day.”
The Falcons coaching staff noticed Kazee’s play in the exhibition opener and have been pleased with his development.
“Kazee has been somebody that has definitely impressed us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Probably from the midway point last year on, he was a factor on special teams.”
As far as playing time in that crowded secondary, that will take care of itself.
“You’re going to spend 70 percent of your game in nickel,” Falcons defensive passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson said. “So, you are going to need (defensive backs) and (defensive back) depth because you’re not going to have guys make it all the way through the season.
“You can think that we have five guys, that’s our nickel group and we’re good. You better have some depth behind them, some good quality depth so that when guys go down you’ve got guys that can come up and play.”