One would be forgiven if you didn't believe that the Falcons defensive secondary could be a strength going into the 2015 season. After all, this is the unit that gave up a ton of yards in 2014 and seemed to struggle to find consistency throughout the season. However, a deeper look at the 2015 Falcons reveals a team with some depth and some good options across the board. This is a unit that could fare much better this year and has some very intriguing young players that could end up being building blocks for this defense.
This defensive secondary is anchored by veteran strong safety William Moore. Moore has seen his fair share of injuries over his career, but appears to be as healthy as ever coming into camp. In fact, he's dropped his playing weight and appears to be moving very well on the field. In Quinn's defense, he'll be asked to play in the box far more often and he's stated that he has a renewed focus on making sure he tackles guys instead of always going for the big hits. If he can stay healthy, Moore can thrive in this system and is a critical piece going forward.
On the edge is the criminally underrated Desmond Trufant. Tru has been a revelation since coming to Atlanta, and his performance in camp has only cemented the thought that this will be the year that the rest of the NFL will take notice. Trufant is not only turning into a top-5 corner, he may be in the conversation as one of the few true shutdown corners in the league. He's repeatedly demonstrated his fantastic speed and impeccable mechanics throughout camp, even intercepting Matt Ryan in the early days of the summer. He's going to be a cornerstone of this defense for a very long time.
Trufant's draft mate, Robert Alford, is looking to take the next step in his development. While he has not had the same level of success that Trufant has had, Alford is progressing well and the new coaching staff has been pleased with his performance in camp. There was some initial thought that Alford could be supplanted by newly drafted Jalen Collins, but that talk has subsided as Alford has had a very strong camp while Collins has struggled. Alford is a bit of a wild card, but if he can stay consistent this year, he could be another great building block for this defense.
The New Guys
The Falcons surprised quite a few people when they drafted Jalen Collins in the second round of this year's draft. The 6'2" corner was seen as a project player with tremendous upside and is definitely a model of the type of corner that Dan Quinn likes to deploy. However, early injuries and missing some time at OTAs has cost Collins and his development has not accelerated as quickly as hoped. Collins may still see some time on the field in nickel or dime sets, but he's not likely to secure a starting position this year.
Phillip Adams is a journeyman corner that has impressed throughout training camp. He's gotten considerable time with the first team defense and looks poised to secure a role in the sub packages on the team. At just 27 years old, he can fill a role for a couple of years while some of the younger players are given time to develop.
Of all the players who have surprised this offseason, perhaps no one has surprised more than Ricardo Allen. The fifth round pick from a year ago - who was surprisingly cut and put on the practice squad - has emerged as the favorite to start at free safety, a position he hasn't played before. Allen has done nothing but impress the coaches and his teammates throughout camp. While he still has some growing to do in the position, the early returns have been very promising.
Another player who has emerged in training camp is un-drafted free agent Kevin White. The corner out of TCU - who was once thought to be a potential day 2 pick in the draft - surprised many people when he went undrafted. Well, the early indications are that White can carve a role out for himself on this team, possibly even making the 53-man roster. There is still plenty of football left to be played, but White is a name to pay attention to as we go into the next few preseason games.
Coming into camp, many people felt that the free safety position was Charles Godfrey's to lose. The tone in camp changed early when Ricardo Allen emerged and Godfrey has quickly disappeared into the background. His performance against the Titans was not good and there are questions over whether he's a good fit for what Dan Quinn is looking for in a free safety. He's a name to monitor over the coming weeks.
Likewise, 2014 third round pick Dezmen Southward has struggled in his transition to corner. His game against the Titans left many people concerned about whether he could make the transition successfully. Secondary coach Marquand Manuel told our own Jeanna Thomas that Southward has the tools and the speed and length to play the position, but he has to put it together on the field. If Southward can't put it together in the next few preseason games, his position on the 53-man roster may be in serious jeopardy.
As you can see, there are a lot of questions remaining in the defensive secondary - but those question are indicative of some fierce competitions in camp. With guys like Adams and White stepping up, and Allen emerging into the starting free safety role, there are reasons to be optimistic about the long-term potential of this group. If the secondary can continue to progress in camp and through the preseason, this could end up being a strength of this defense not only this year, but for years to come.