Kemal Ishmael has been a man of many hats in Atlanta. He’s spent time as a reserve and starting safety, reserve linbacker, and key special teamers since being drafted in the seventh round, with most of his time under Dan Quinn coming at linbacker. With the J.J. Wilcox injury, it appears Ishmael’s versatility and experience at going to come in awfully handy yet again.
Per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, Ishmael will be 75% safety and 25% linbacker over the summer, an arrangement that virtually guarantees him a roster spot when paired with his obvious special teams value.
Kemal Ishmael will work 75 at safety and 25 at linebacker— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) July 24, 2019
This move indicates several things at once. First, it potentially frees up a spot at linebacker for veteran Bruce Carter, former and current Falcon Jermaine Grace, or intriguing undrafted rookie Tre’ Crawford. It suggests that the team isn’t in love with their current safety depth options, with Ishmael likely pushing someone off the roster either as Neal’s primary backup or the de facto fifth safety and final linebacker. And third, it suggests that Ishmael will have a more significant role overall on defense than he had a year ago, when he barely played. He’s always had the physicality and playmaking skills to be useful at safety, and now he’ll get to return to his native position if all goes well.
We’ll have to see what this means for Sharrod Neasman and Ryan Neal, but at the very least it’s good to see the Falcons have already identified a way to help replace a player they were counting on before injury. As Ishmael enters his seventh season in Atlanta, he’s still finding ways to remain a versatile and valuable player.