Damontae Kazee was a ballhawking cornerback at San Diego State, racking up seven interceptions last season. Now the Falcons will hope for Kazee to apply those skills and develop new ones to compete for a shot to start at free safety.
Kazee began that transition on Day 1 of rookie minicamp, and Quinn was pleased with what they saw from him.
“I told him earlier, with Tae, I said, ‘Man, we were really looking to see you communicate as a middle field safety,’” Quinn said. “And that part of that job, he came through. I was really looking for that. I knew the speed would be there, the breaks on the ball.
“That was the first line of defense at playing free safety — could he help direct everything. He did a good job with that to start off.”
Kazee, a fifth-round pick this year, was a steal where the Falcons selected him. His seven interceptions in 2016 tied him for the second-most in FBS football. You know who else had seven picks last year? Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, who went 15th overall to the Indianapolis Colts.
Given the team’s emphasis on competition, Kazee will have the opportunity to earn the starting role over Ricardo Allen. Quinn said that’s something that these young players understand going into it.
“We told them success is a choice, and how hard do you want to go after it? And at the end of the year, we started five rookies — at tight end, at nickel, the linebacker spots — and it doesn’t matter how they got their butts into that room,” Quinn said. “Here on a tryout, here as an undrafted free agent or a draft pick — we’re looking for great competitors and guys who want to totally buy into the team concept that’s a part of our locker room, our team.”
A lot will happen between now and when that depth chart at free safety is set for the season, but Kazee is off to a good start.