The Atlanta Falcons had three rookies playing significant roles on defense yesterday against the Bills. Takk McKinley is already a budding star, but Duke Riley and Damontae Kazee are not, and both earned some grumbling from fans for their performances Sunday.
Start with Duke Riley, who was “credited” with four missed tackles yesterday, and has consistently looked a little shaky when he’s asked to make open field tackles or bring down players larger than him, which is unfortunately quite a few players. And then pivot to Damontae Kazee, who had a little trouble of his own with tackling and certainly did not look like Ricardo Allen, even if he certainly looked solid in run support and graded out well.
But as we counseled with Wes Schweitzer after the first week of the season, you should just not even begin to think about writing these guys off. Schweitzer has quietly turned into a solid right guard over the last couple of weeks, and I do believe that both Kazee and Riley will turn out to be solid players, at worst. Both just need time, patience, and plenty of playing time to get there, and Kazee showed enough in his first start to think he’ll be there relatively soon.
While Kazee’s probably headed back to the bench in Week 6 against the Dolphins with Allen returning from injury, the Falcons still should be able to find snaps for Riley, who is gaining valuable experience even as he’s whiffing on a few tackles. If this team starts to fall apart a bit it’s possible that changes, but for now, we just have to remember that most young defenders are not going to be Keanu Neal or Deion Jones and find immediate success. For this team to field a truly elite defense, though, they’ll need guys like Riley and Kazee to live up to their considerable potential, and Dan Quinn and company never cut corners on development.