Heading into the 2013 season most people felt that the safety position was one of strength for Atlanta. Hard-hitting strong safety William Moore and charismatic free safety Thomas DeCoud both earned Pro Bowl appearances following a dynamic 2012 season. Unfortunately, things didn't necessarily go as planned in any way, shape or form for the Falcons in 2013. What's happening with the safety position as we look toward the 2014 season?
William Moore is a player I'm particularly looking forward to watching this season. The Falcons' reported shift to a 3-4 base defense will give defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to play around with some different blitzes, and Moore seems uniquely suited to the safety blitz. Last season Moore had three interceptions, three forced fumbles, two sacks, two quarterback hits, and two hurries.
Dwight Lowery was acquired by the Falcons as a free agent free safety, and I would currently project him as the starter at that position. Lowery is a veteran player whose major hindrance on the field has been injuries. Lowery has 10 career interceptions and five forced fumbles and three sacks in his career.
Zeke Motta will enter training camp on the PUP list as he continues to heal from a cervical fracture in his neck. Motta played strong safety at Notre Dame and saw some playing time at free safety for the Falcons during his rookie season when Thomas DeCoud was injured. It's unclear whether Motta will be able to play this season at all. Cervical fractures can be extremely serious. Here's hoping for a complete recovery.
Kemal Ishmael played just three defensive snaps last season, so he's still a relative unknown. Ishmael played free safety in college. For what it's worth, Ishmael is simply listed as a safety on the Falcons' roster, whereas Dwight Lowery and Dezmen Southward are listed as free safeties. Perhaps Atlanta sees the potential for Ishmael to serve as a backup strong safety. This is definitely something to keep an eye on in training camp.
Dezmen Southward was selected by the Falcons in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and while there are some questions about his NFL readiness and his abilities in coverage, we should learn more about his skill level and how he's adjusting to the speed of the game over the next couple of weeks.
Kimario McFadden, an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State University, McFadden had three interceptions in two seasons at SCSU, with one returned for a touchdown.
Sean Baker spent a chunk of the 2013 season on Atlanta's practice squad. He went undrafted in 2012 and was signed by the Bucs as a college free agent, and showed great potential in the last preseason game, intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble.
Thomas DeCoud was cut following the 2013 season and subsequently signed with the Carolina Panthers. Dwight Lowery is likely to win the starting free safety spot, but Dezmen Southward could make it an interesting training camp competition.
The Big Question
There are a few big questions surrounding the safeties. Can Dwight Lowery stay healthy? Can Dezmen Southward develop into a viable starting free safety over time? Will Zeke Motta be healthy enough to hit the field this season? Is Willy Mo really always ready?
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario would be for Lowery to stay healthy, giving Southward a season to develop, and for William Moore to also stay healthy and avoid fines this season.
Worst Case Scenario
Without proven depth at the either safety position, either Lowery or Moore going down to injury would leave the Falcons in a precarious position.
Hopefully we'll see sure tackling and some ballhawking out of this group this season. How are you feeling about the safeties as we head into camp?