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Secondary Coming Alive


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https://theathletic.com/2008911/2020/08/19/joe-whitt-jr-s-secondary-coming-alive-early-in-falcons-training-camp/

 

When asked what his first impression of new secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. was, Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver didn’t have to think very long or very hard before coming up with an answer. According to Oliver, the answer jumped out at him right away upon his first few interactions with Whitt. Without a second thought, Oliver immediately had high praise for one of the Falcons’ offseason additions.

“He’s probably the smartest DBs coach that I’ve ever come in contact with,” Oliver said. “That’s just (knowledge) about the position, about the schemes, about the defense, what the offense wants to do, what they’re trying to do, things like that.”

Oliver said in the short time that he has known Whitt and had the chance to be coached by Whitt his new secondary coach already has opened a whole new avenue to the game that Oliver didn’t know he could access before their meeting.

He spoke specifically to how Whitt breaks down the game, almost a play smarter, not harder mindset (don’t worry, the defensive backs are playing as hard as ever right now, even this early in camp). Oliver said Whitt emphasizes that every player plays to his leverage, and coach Dan Quinn said earlier in the day that is what makes Whitt stand out as a secondary coach in the first place.

“One of the things I admire about Joe from a teaching standpoint is it’s so clear, no gray, this is what we’re going to do and we’re going to tailor it to each individual’s strength,” Quinn said.

With Whitt, football is a game of wits. And to a certain degree, the Falcons’ secondary has to be thoroughly caught up on any playbook adjustments … both sides of the playbook.

Oliver explained the depth this group has gone over the game with Whitt, and it’s extensive: Know where your help on the field is, know what the quarterback’s reads are, if you’re in this specific coverage, know the quarterback wants to look backside, know split safeties, single safeties and where the quarterback wants to go with each. Oliver said Whitt is highlighting all the nuances that you don’t necessarily think of on every single play. He knows that in the end, those nuances and that knowledge are the difference-makers.

Another drilling technique Whitt incorporates is the increased use of the JUGS machine. Every practice starts with every defensive back running through drills with the JUGS machine. It’s something Oliver said he hadn’t seen a whole unit use before until Whitt joined the team.

From a teaching standpoint, Quinn said Whitt isn’t reinventing the wheel with the Falcons. It’s more about telling the wheel when to start rolling than it is showing it how.

“Think of it like a playbook. ‘Here’s all the plays, but when do you use the certain plays? So, for those guys, when do I off-hand-jam? When do I back off? When do I challenge at the line? And, what do I do well?'” Quinn said. “All of those things factor in. I wouldn’t say it’s one new technique (that Whitt is teaching), as much as it is applying things at the right time.”

So far, the secondary seems to be a group that is having the most fun at training camp: The players are breaking up passes, coming up with interceptions. They look more like the secondary that ended the 2019 season rather than the one that started it. That’s good news for the Falcons, and Oliver implied that good news starts with Whitt.

“Having Coach Whitt here, just his knowledge of the game and his knowledge of the position I think it’s helped us a lot,” Oliver said. “I think we’ve had a good few days. We just have to keep it up, keep it consistent and keep going.”

Practice notes and observations

• Todd Gurley and Alex Mack were back out at practice after a scheduled day off on Tuesday. Both were active within their own position groups even without suiting up Tuesday with Mack actually holding what Quinn called a “silent count clinic” with the other offensive linemen after practice because communication didn’t look exactly how they want it to. Twenty-four hours later, Mack and Gurley were right back where they are expected to be by Week 1, with Mack snapping the ball to Matt Ryan, who handed it off to Gurley.

• With the dynamic duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley set in stone as the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in 2020, the No. 3 spot was up for grabs entering training camp. By Wednesday’s practice, it seemed as though Russell Gage could be that player. Every practice begins with a special teams circuit. During that circuit, the Falcons’ offensive playmakers (Ryan, Gurley, Hayden Hurst, Jones and Ridley, etc.) go to work on another field, staying loose while running various routes. Gage joined the group on Wednesday.

• Speaking of making plays, during the early part of practice the Falcons were working on some shallow goal routes with the wide receivers and defensive backs. Early in the drill, Ryan thread the needle with a pass that slid right between two defenders to Hurst at the goal line. It was a play that showed a particular trust in quarterback and tight end early in camp.

• Even with Mack back in full swing on Wednesday, the Falcons wanted to see some full-speed reps with Justin McCray at center as he took snaps with the first- and second-team units.

• Along with singing the praises of his new secondary coach, Oliver also spoke to another new addition to the secondary: Darqueze Dennard. Dennard imparted some teaching points to Oliver regarding certain offensive looks. Oliver said he already has seen the impact a veteran like Dennard can have “in a rather younger DB room in comparison to other teams around the league.” Spending the majority of his time at nickel, Dennard adds a certain level of experience to the group, and with Keanu Neal back as well as Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen, the secondary is deep.

• Continuing on with storylines of the secondary, Quinn said in his morning news conference that it does his heart good to see Neal back out on the practice field doing so well. For one, Neal always has been a presence in the secondary, but Quinn said he also has seen Neal gain more confidence as the days go on, becoming more nimble and agile as he gets stronger and more confident relying on his repaired and rehabbed Achilles tendon. He’s in almost every rotation with the first defense, and with Dennard at nickel, the Falcons have deployed a rotation of Neal, Kazee and Allen deep.

 

• Tyeler Davidson and Charles Harris got first-team looks with the defense through the majority of Wednesday’s practice. On Tuesday, Quinn said he was anxious to see what Harris could do opposite Dante Fowler at defensive end and that the next couple of weeks were going to be important to figure out exactly what Harris can provide the pass rush. Davidson has slotted in nicely beside Grady Jarrett at tackle.

• There are many who should be excited about what Chris Lindstrom can do in his second year in the league, and Quinn sure seems to be, saying Lindstrom is “off to a **** of a start” in camp. Things seem to be firing on all cylinders for Lindstrom: His quickness is where it should be, and he’s processing the defense at a heightened speed. The right side with Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary already looks a bit more secure, but calling out Lindstrom in particular, Quinn said he “looks like one of those players ready to take the big leap.”

 

 

What a move it was to get this guy on the coaching staff with such young talent. If all this talk is true, our secondary is going to be scary good towards the back end of the year when everyone is gelling...

Edited by DirtyBird2
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I'm excited about this secondary. What I know for sure, that may Falcons fans haven't thought about, is this unit is going to give up some U-G-L-Y explosive plays due to near unforgivable scheme busts early on. That is zero reason for concern when we see it happen. All the while, there will be some ball hawking going on to help mitigate the breakdowns. While they rest of you are screaming "bust" and/or "told you so," I'll be grinning ear to ear about the great things to come. 

What else do I know?  This will be common across the NFL. The lack of OTAs and preseason games to build communication is going to lead to lots of defensive breakdowns and subsequent easy long TDs early on. As the season progresses, the talent will rise to the top and communication will improve. I expect pain early, but success late from this unit. I also know our offense will be on the winning side of its share of explosive plays early on. The O will do its part to give this emerging unit time to get their communication in order. Once they all get on the same page...wonderful things...many wonderful thing!

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1 hour ago, falcndave said:

I'm excited about this secondary. What I know for sure, that may Falcons fans haven't thought about, is this unit is going to give up some U-G-L-Y explosive plays due to near unforgivable scheme busts early on. That is zero reason for concern when we see it happen. All the while, there will be some ball hawking going on to help mitigate the breakdowns. While they rest of you are screaming "bust" and/or "told you so," I'll be grinning ear to ear about the great things to come. 

What else do I know?  This will be common across the NFL. The lack of OTAs and preseason games to build communication is going to lead to lots of defensive breakdowns and subsequent easy long TDs early on. As the season progresses, the talent will rise to the top and communication will improve. I expect pain early, but success late from this unit. I also know our offense will be on the winning side of its share of explosive plays early on. The O will do its part to give this emerging unit time to get their communication in order. Once they all get on the same page...wonderful things...many wonderful thing!

On the flip side, this is all the more reason for an offense to have some coverage beater plays in that teams haven't seen.  You can get 2 freebie TD's a game in the first 6 weeks probably if you do smart plays and playcalling.

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20 minutes ago, takeitdown said:

On the flip side, this is all the more reason for an offense to have some coverage beater plays in that teams haven't seen.  You can get 2 freebie TD's a game in the first 6 weeks probably if you do smart plays and playcalling.

Which makes me think we will do it one week and not the other five. Lol.

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Great read.  Really optimistic about the secondary this year, a lot of our issues early on last year were on coaching, coverage busts due to not being ready for a scenario that happened.  I feel like there will be a couple wrinkles to iron out, but i doubt it’s near as bad as last years.  Also excited to see more turnovers from it and partner that with an improved d-line, I’m cautiously optimistic about this defense.  LB outside of Jones is my biggest concern.

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13 minutes ago, Rings said:

Great read.  Really optimistic about the secondary this year, a lot of our issues early on last year were on coaching, coverage busts due to not being ready for a scenario that happened.  I feel like there will be a couple wrinkles to iron out, but i doubt it’s near as bad as last years.  Also excited to see more turnovers from it and partner that with an improved d-line, I’m cautiously optimistic about this defense.  LB outside of Jones is my biggest concern.

Going into this season my main concern was the DB's. After hearing and seeing everything going on in practice, that concern changed to the lb's. Like you said, outside of Jones we have HUGE ???. The lack of depth concerns me even more than the lack of starting talent. 

I think Morris will put this defense in the best position but I think the success will be on how ready these guys are.

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3 hours ago, DirtyBird2 said:

Know where your help on the field is, know what the quarterback’s reads are, if you’re in this specific coverage, know the quarterback wants to look backside, know split safeties, single safeties and where the quarterback wants to go with each.

I've said this for a while. You could tell they were always lining up like it was 1st and 10 from midfield. No clue about the situation, what the offense was trying to do, where their help is, etc. Just stupid football. If they just play smarter, they instantly improve. They've got the talent to be a good unit. It's the above the neck that has been so embarrassing. 

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1 hour ago, kschreck said:

Really think Whitt is going to turn out to be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) off-season moves.  Excited to see what he can do with this group.

Agree. I really get excited for our secondary after reading this article on Whitt. Seems like his insights and overall knowledge are opening up aspects of the game they didn't know existed.

I want to see the offense when the season opens, but it's this D that I can't wait to watch. I have this crazy idea that the world is going to flip over sideways and our D is going to be as good as our offense. Can anybody here imagine if we had that Grtiz Blitz level D again to go with our offense? This group I believe has the potential to be at that level in the near future.

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22 minutes ago, blizzard_falcon said:

Not a great sign for Takk that they're giving Charles Harris 1st team reps ahead of him

I mean, was the writing not on the wall by not pocking up his option ?

Something tells me they are pushing all of his buttons this offseason hoping to get him to either wake up or to pack up. Fight or flight, no more coddling.

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25 minutes ago, itsryanwonder said:

At least we will have Raheem Morris for one full year as a DC before he gets hired as a Head coach next year.  You know teams just love to break up this squad as soon as we get some success

It's what happens when you suck in certain categories, especially the main ones. The more room the needle has to move up, the more attention is gained when it actually does. Then the individual responsible for the revitalization is deemed as a miracle worker, and rightfully so. Hence, putting ownership into an uncomfortable decision making position that more often than not results in letting said successful one walk. Sorry just venting and stating the obvious.

My moral takeaway here: always aim as high as possible, but if you fall short, just try not to suck. 

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On 8/20/2020 at 4:05 PM, itsryanwonder said:

At least we will have Raheem Morris for one full year as a DC before he gets hired as a Head coach next year.  You know teams just love to break up this squad as soon as we get some success

If teams are going to race to hire a DC who leads a 16th ranked defense as their HC, then so be it. I doubt this defense comes in as one of the three best defenses in the league. That's usually the DCs who get HC interviews. 

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4 hours ago, Tim Mazetti said:

Well this is an astonishing development! @Vandy

Wait, I never said this. This is the second time this has happened. I don't even see that response except in your quoted text. 

 

Edit: I'm am idiot...it's quoted from the text, not from me saying it... Carry on nothing to see here 😂 😂😂🤣🤣🤣

Edited by DirtyBird2
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