James Sanders And Kelvin Hayden Making Their Marks Early

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles is tackled by Sean Weatherspoon #56 and James Sanders #36 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on September 18, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

When the Falcons signed James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden just a few short weeks ago, it seemed they were ticketed for reserve roles early in the season. After all, they were cut from their previous respective teams recently. Surely they weren't starters?

Well, that conventional wisdom went out the window in Week 2. Sanders started at free safety in place of Thomas DeCoud and looked sharp, showing off some coverage chops and getting good penetration into the backfield on at least two blitzes. Hayden had an interception—even if it was kinda, sorta not one—and acquitted himself well playing in the nickel.

It’s pretty remarkable that either of these guys would be starting against one of the NFL’s better teams in the second week of the season, but here we are.  To these eyes, Sanders is an asset in coverage at safety, and Hayden is a stabilizing force at corner with soft enough hands to make quarterbacks pay for mistakes.  

Neither embarrassed themselves against the Eagles. In fact, I was a little impressed with both.

More to the point, Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith recognized the talent and work ethic in both and were willing to bring them along quickly. Starting guys new to your system after less a month of immersion is always risky, but I would say it paid off handsomely for the Falcons on Sunday night. They’ll get a chance to keep the good times rolling against the Buccaneers this week.

What does this mean for Thomas DeCoud and Chris Owens, who were knocked out of the lineup by Sanders and Hayden? Well, Owens will continue to get plenty of snaps, especially if the Ginger Hammer decides to discipline Dunta Robinson (which he didn't, so never mind!) With his athleticism, Owens can be an asset, and he made a beautiful stop on LeSean McCoy last night after correctly diagnosing the play. For all his struggles, Owens still has a bright future.

DeCoud does too, but I can’t help but believe that Sanders has overtaken him  for this season. There were rumblings that the coaching staff was disgruntled with him after the Bears game, when he missed a tackle and dropped two potential interceptions. The fact that Sanders was able to take his job in short order does little to dispel that. Long-term, DeCoud’s probably still the guy at free safety, but he won’t get his starting gig back in 2011 unless Sanders is injured or falters terribly.

What did you think of Sanders and Hayden Sunday? 

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