Raheem Morris looking forward to ‘go time’ for the Falcons’ defense

The Falcons selected Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell with the No. 16 pick.

Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, pleased with the virtual offseason, has a master plan for rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell, the team's first-round pick.

Despite the cancellation Thursday of the Pro Football Hall of Fame game, Morris is hopeful the Falcons can report for training camp July 28.

With no offseason on-the-field work with coaches, the Falcons plan to work as fast as possible to get Terrell, who played at Westlake High and Clemson and was drafted 16th overall, ready to play and maybe start right away.

“When you draft a guy in the first round and you draft a guy that high, you like to think he can play in some significant part of the game,” Morris told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. “Whether he’s a starter or not, has yet to be determined.”

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Morris believes Terrell can start right away.

“I would like to say yes, but I don’t want to make any predictions for him,” Morris said. “He’s got to go out there and compete with some really good football players. I would say this, when you get a guy that early, you’re going to give all of the effort, give him all of his due (respect) and chances to get him out on the grass as quickly as possible.”

The Falcons cut veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant and have a gaping hole at left cornerback. Trufant signed with Detroit in free agency.

The Falcons believe Kendall Sheffield, who played well at nickel back last season, can play outside. Right cornerback Isaiah Oliver is back, and the team re-signed steady veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson in free agency. They have enough cornerbacks to open the season if the coaches can’t get Terrell ready to play immediately.

While a lot of the focus will be on Terrell, Morris points immediately to the defensive line.

“I believe it starts up front,” Morris said. “It always has. I don’t think you can go anywhere really on defense without it not starting up there.”

The Falcons signed defensive end Dante Fowler in free agency and drafted defensive tackle Marlon Davidson in the second round.

“I’m really excited about the additions to the team,” Morris said. “When you are talking about bringing in Fowler to go with Grady (Jarrett), to go with (Steven) Means coming back off of injury.

“We are talking about Allen Bailey coming back. Re-signing Tyeler Davison, you are talking about getting a healthy Takk (McKinley) back and getting those guys to go out there and play together.”

The Falcons also hired Tosh Lupoi as the defensive line/run-game coordinator/defensive ends coach this offseason. He'll work with Jess Simpson, who's the defensive line/defensive tackles coach.

“How they started off in this virtual world, I think is going to help us moving forward,” Morris said.

The Falcons lost the versatile De'Vondre Campbell in free agency, but believe third-year linebacker Foye Oluokun is ready for full-time action.

“I feel real good about Foye at the linebacker position, and (we’ll) provide some competition for him there,” Morris said.

The Falcons signed veteran linebacker Deone Bucannon and drafted linebacker Mykal Walker in the fourth round.

“We’ve got the steady piece that’s been there in Debo (Deion Jones) and how he’s played,” Morris said. “We have to get back to doing some things that he wants to do, like getting the ball back. Make some splash plays that he’s able to make.”

In the secondary, the Falcons are going to leave Damontae Kazee at free safety. Keanu Neal (Achilles) and Ricardo Allen (shoulder) are coming off surgeries.

“Getting (Neal) back in addition to (Allen) and Kazee, you can never have enough safeties,” Morris said. “How are you going to play them? What are you going to do? All of that stuff works itself out. You’ve got to find a way to get the best players on the field. We always do. You never have enough players, and that’s what those three guys are.”

The Falcons also drafted a safety, Jaylinn Hawkins, in the fourth round.

At cornerback, the Falcons could be very young.

“You’re talking about a bunch of young guys that were able to develop throughout last year and get better down the stretch,” Morris said. “The way Isaiah and Sheff played toward the end of the season was exciting. Being able to sign Blidi back on the team (was good). He played really well for us down the stretch. Obviously, you drafted a first-round pick in A.J. Terrell out in the corner position. ... That has to fire you up.”

Oliver must continue to make strides.

“With Oliver, you’re talking about a real mature, subtle, laid-back kid who’s detailed and who’s sharp,” Morris said. “He’s got all of it in front of him.”

The Falcons asked Oliver to work on his footwork.

“He put together a really good offseason for himself and for the team,” Morris said. “We are looking forward to getting him back. He must continue to grow from where he was. Like I said about myself in the coaching career, you don’t want to skip any steps. You want him to go back and start from the basics, get all of his footwork connected. Then go out there on the grass and finish up. Start off like he finished up.”

If they can’t get Terrell ready and Oliver goes backward, Wreh-Wilson is set to enter his eighth year in the NFL.

Wide receivers coach Raheem Morris talks about his move to defense and what he plans to address this season. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

“He played well down the stretch,” Morris said. “He probably was one of our most productive guys on the ball when it came to knocking down passes. That’s a pillar of our program, which we talk about all the time.”

Wreh-Wilson had seven pass breakups while playing in 14 games and making two starts.

“We have to get the ball back,” Morris said. “He was one of the few people to affect the ball and touch it.”

Also, the Falcons have cornerback Jordan Miller, who played in 10 games last season as rookie.

“He made big strides,” Morris said. “He had a really good virtual program. He was able to workout and change his body.”

Miller, a fifth-round pick from Washington, has three more games to serve on his four-game suspension for taking a banned performance-enhancing substance last season.

“He knows what he’s got ahead of him,” Morris said. “He knows what it means for him this year. I think he’s really got his head on the right way and is ready to come back and compete. I’m fired about Jordan Miller.”

Morris doesn’t dwell on the fact that he’s coordinating a unit he hasn’t seen on the field.

“You can look at what you don’t have. I think we did a great job of looking at what we did have this offseason,” Morris said. “Being able to have the coaches meetings virtually, I think we got to know each other a lot better. I think we got more connected. I think we were able to implement some more of the things we want to do.”

Morris said coach Dan Quinn made the distinction of the coaches working at home or sleeping at the office.

“It kind of felt that way because you’d wake up and the first thing you’d do is call your guys and talk about what you watched by yourself and what you wanted to watch with your guys,” Morris said. “Then the next thing you were on with the players and you’re installing.”

Morris felt the coaches had more time to install and tinker with concepts.

“When the waiting game all ends and we go back to the building, it’s going to be go time,” Morris said. “Hopefully, we took advantage and made the most out of this offseason. I feel like we did.”


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