The Falcons should get Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back this season after losing them for most of the 2018 season. But Damontae Kazee made his mark as a fill-in free safety last year, adjusting well and finishing the season tied at the top of the league for interceptions.
Balancing Allen and Neal’s returns with a need to keep Kazee on the field isn’t the simplest thing. One way the Falcons could make it work is to employ more three-safety sets. That’s exactly what Falcoholic reader Xception wants to know, and our staff weighs in below.
Yes, but I don’t expect it to be a regular thing unless the team is keen on using Damontae Kazee more as a safety. Kazee’s considerable upside as a nickel cornerback ought to keep him largely locked into that role, and there aren’t any other safeties on the roster today that seem likely to push the Falcons into utilizing three safety sets, especially at the expense of keeping Kazee or Isaiah Oliver off the field. I think you’ll see Kazee get a little time at safety when the situation calls for it, however, because he’s clearly capable and that trio could be lethal. —Dave Choate
Probably? Kazee, drafted as a corner, proved he’s a versatile corner/safety that should play every snap possible. I would really like to see him covering that nickel slot, which I believe will be his primary responsibility this season. He clearly has the tackling ability to make an impact at safety, and I think we could see more big nickel formations this season. Kazee may let the Falcons play more dime if Kendall Sheffield can get up to speed early, but I still expect him to primarily play at corner. —Matt Chambers
Yes and no. If the goal is to get Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee on the field at the same time all facing the QB, then yes, that will definitely happen. The lines between safety and corner will be blurred, though, because you’ll probably see this alignment used a good bit in zone coverage sets, which is sure to drive some of you to the mad house. I doubt we’ll see 3 guys playing “traditional” safety roles at the same time and I’m not sure it makes sense to do that. —DW
Echoing the comments above with a yes and no. Damontae Kazee clearly established himself as an impact player at safety last season, so he’s certainly a plus option should Coach Quinn want to throw some different defensive looks at a particular team. Kazee should be locked into the nickel corner role to maximize his playing time, but the prospect of Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Damontae Kazee all on the field at once is too tantalizing to rule out three-safety sets in 2019. I believe you’ll see it, but sparingly and entirely situation-dependent. — Carter Breazeale
Yes, but it’s not likely to be a regular occurrence. Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee are all plus defenders and you want as many of those on the field as possible when you have that opportunity. In truth, when everybody is healthy, the goal will be to get Kazee as many snaps as possible whether that be at safety or corner. This will be a way of achieving that goal against certain teams. — Adnan Ikic
I think, as with most NFL teams, we’re likely to see the Falcons utilize the nickel as their primary defensive personnel grouping. That being said, I think the distinction between “3 CBs” and “3 safeties” probably isn’t really meaningful for the Falcons in 2019. Since Kazee played safety in 2018, you could probably consider their nickel package with him on the field a “3 safety” set—even if he’s technically playing CB. Outside of that, however, I doubt we’ll see much playing time for the other safeties on the roster aside from rotational snaps. The players with the best shot at seeing additional time are probably the SS-types, like Sharrod Neasman or Afolabi Laguda, who can offer more size against the run and multiple TE sets. — Kevin Knight
The Falcons have relied on the nickel throughout Quinn’s time, and I think we’re more likely to see Kazee settle in there than used as a third safety on a regular basis. I’d echo what Kevin said in particular — if Kazee’s on the field with Keanu and Rico, it’s basically a three-safety look, but I don’t think we’ll see a ton of Kazee being used too regularly as a true third safety as opposed to a nickelback. As long as they find ways to keep Kazee on the field, I’ll be fine with it either way. —Jeanna
I imagine that they will, although I would like to think the nickel will be utilized a lot more. The Falcons have a phenomenal “problem” of having three very good, young safeties, and you obviously want to have them all on the field whenever you can. Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal are the obvious starters, while Kazee is more of that x-factor who the team can have fun with. It’ll be interesting to see how Dan Quinn, who will now be calling the plays, uses his safety studs. - Evan