Isaiah Oliver, other Falcons going to the park to work on their games

Isaiah Oliver gives the player's perspective to the virtual offseason program. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver and a group of other defensive backs and receivers have found time to work out at local parks during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Been able to get out to some fields, limited times obviously, but a couple of days and get with other guys and with receivers and kind of work the techniques and things like that,” Oliver said during a video conference call Wednesday. “We definitely have been doing that these last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to getting some more of that in.”

The workouts haven’t been too structured, but they can get competitive, according to Oliver.

The players have done some one-on-one, individual drills and seven-on-seven work.

“Haven’t been out there with Matt (Ryan),” Oliver said. “The receivers really, Devin Gray, Olamide (Zaccheaus), Christian Blake, Russell Gage, Rid (Calvin Ridley), all of those guys (have been there).”

“When (parks) were open,” Oliver said. “Then they were closed, but some are reopening.”

Defensive backs Damontae Kazee, Chris Cooper and Jordan Miller have joined them, presumably with the players following self-distancing guidelines.

“We’ve gotten together a couple of times,” Oliver said. “It’s been good. We’ve been trying to make it feel as normal as possible.

“Kind of trying to go through the same things that we would be doing if we able to be at the facility.”

The Falcons have been running their “official” offseason program through virtual meetings since April 18.

“It’s definitely been very different for sure, but something that I feel like we’ve adjusted to just as a unit, as a team and then as a defensive-back group,” Oliver said.

The Falcons made point-of-attack tapes for all of the players. They have individual things to work on over the offseason.

Oliver, a second-round pick in 2018, started all 16 games and played 944 (89.4%) of the defensive snaps last season. He was targeted on 88 plays and yielded 59 receptions. He received a 56.9 (F) grade from analytics website Pro Football Focus.

Oliver had 61 tackles, 11 pass breakups, one quarterback hit, a forced fumble and no interceptions.

“My point-of-attack tape, the biggest thing was connecting my hands and feet at the line of scrimmage so that I can press technique and things like that,” Oliver said. “I’ve really been working on that.”

Oliver, who was a big part of the defense’s turnaround in the second half of last season, is looking forward to working under new defensive backs coach Joe Whitt Jr.

“He’s coached a lot of really good DBs,” Oliver said. “A lot of guys that weren’t necessarily supposed to be good DBs, but ended up being really good DBs, if that makes sense.”

Oliver likely is referring to undrafted free agents such as Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, who were developed into Pro Bowl players by Whitt during his tenure in Green Bay (2008-18).

Whitt, who was with Cleveland last season and on Bobby Petrino’s Falcons staff in 2007, wants Oliver to attack the ball better. He needs to turn some of those 11 pass breakups into interceptions.

“We are going to make sure that we can pull the ball off of people,” Whitt said. “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.”

At times, over the first half of the season, Oliver, and some of the other defensive backs, too, lost receivers. There were numerous times when receivers were wide open.

“We don’t need communication errors,” Whitt said. “We don’t need anything like that. … It’s too hard to win in this league. So, we don’t want to beat ourselves.”

Oliver has been impressed with the virtual Whitt.

“Obviously, it would be better if we were out on the field together and watching film at practice and being out there together,” Oliver said. “He’s done a really good job so far with the virtual offseason program. He’s been able to explain his message and his coaching style.”

Oliver said that losing veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant is “definitely going to change some things,” but he’s been impressed with first-round draft pick A.J. Terrell.

“He’s eager to learn and smart,” Oliver said. “It seems like he understands the defense pretty well.”

Oliver said the defensive backs have taken notice of Tom Brady’s signing with Tampa Bay over the offseason.

“He’s touted as one of the best quarterbacks, if not the best quarterback, to ever play the game of football,” Oliver said. “We are looking forward to the challenge, really. That’s something that we’ve talked about a little bit as a group.”

Oliver is just trying to make the most of the virtual situation.

“I would say, the silver lining of the thing is just being able to work on yourself and make yourself that much better before we come back as a whole team,” Oliver said. “That’s something that I’ve enjoyed about the process, is working on the things I need to work on to be a better player.”


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