Oluokun turning sights and sounds into tackles

May 12, 2018 Flowery Branch: Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun talks to the media after the second day of rookie-mini-camp on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Flowery Branch.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
May 12, 2018 Flowery Branch: Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun talks to the media after the second day of rookie-mini-camp on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons rookie linebacker ramps up playing time with big results

No confetti fell and there were no balloons nor kazoos Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but Foyesade Oloukun’s breakout party happened even if you didn’t notice, and the Falcons plan to let their rookie linebacker keep making noise if he keeps hearing so well.

He led the way with 10 combined tackles and assists against Tampa Bay (one coming on special teams), and the brass wasn’t surprised.

Coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel see a lot of Deion Jones in the sixth-round draft choice, and they’ve been waiting for this.

They also see a lot of Yale in the former Bulldog, and coaches have been expecting the 6-foot-2, 229-pounder to do what he did as the Falcons survived the Buccaneers 34-29. Oluokun’s brain power is one reason why he was on the field so much more than before in the Falcons’ base defense and in nickel sets as well.

The other reason he hasn’t played more is that he’s had a bum ankle, and nearly as soon as the swelling went down, he took off, and played 40 of 66 snaps – by far his most playing time this season.

“He’s really been battling through an injury. He really put the work in from the ankle, so he is no longer having to deal with that. He’s healthy and ready to take on a bigger role,” Quinn said Saturday after the Falcons’ final practice before playing the Giants on Monday night.

“We could have earlier, but he wasn’t able to yet. What we love about him is his smarts and his ability to cover. He’s explosive, he’s fast.”

Mitigating circumstances also contributed, as fellow linebacker Duke Riley missed six of 12 tackle attempts a week earlier at Pittsburgh, So, against the Bucs, Riley just 42 percent of the snaps against the Bucs after playing 84 percent against the Steelers, 75 percent against the Bengals, 80 percent against the Saints and 87 percent against the Panthers.

To be sure, Oluokun's playing better in part because he's hearing better. You read that right. He's healthier and reading plays not only with his eyes but also with his ears.

Asked why he’s better able to see plays unfold now than in the first game of the season, he suggested that he’s seen enough to better know what’s coming and he’s incorporating the sounds of the game to help react faster, too.

“I kind of see the plays unfold, basically get a feel for how the line moves or what it sounds like so that when they go back to that play you’ll be able to see it quicker,” he said.

What it sounds like? You mean like picking snap count, audible calls?

Nah, it’s about the crack of pads upon snap. It sounds different run vs. pass, and his senses tingle one way or the other and tip him toward plays.

“It’s how hard they come off the ball run (or drop to) pass (protect),” Oluokun said. “On stretch they go flatter down the line, or they come straight at you ... it’s recognition [and repetition].

“It’s like a golf swing. When you start swinging for the first time, you might be worried about your hand needs to be here, your arm needs to be there, your follow through. At week seven, you’re not thinking, you’re just reacting and doing.”

Oluokun figures to play quite a bit again Monday night when the Falcons (2-4) take on the Giants (1-5), as New York tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison both look healthy enough to start and play. They’ve combined to catch 21 passes and score two touchdowns.

Atlanta coaches value Oluokun’s ability to match up in coverage, and the fact that he soaks up information and puts it into play.

“He’s very smart. When we say that, he never makes the same mistake twice,” Manuel said. “He prides himself on retaining information. And his ability to cover tight ends ... he does a really good job of that, another guy similar to what (De’Vondre Campbell) does.”

Oluokun said was he more sore Monday after the Bucs game, and chances are that will continue because he figures to keep playing more so as to get even more sore.

Coaches trust him more than before.

“That’s what it is, ” Manuel said. “... If playing Foye more is how we win the game because he’s able to do certain things, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Quinn echoed that.

“If there is a guy that has a unique skill for a certain situation, we're going to try to utilize him, and I think that's probably the case there with Foye,” the coach said. “We put him in the base wheel package, and we're going to do more of it.”