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Dan Quinn opens up about importance of having Keanu Neal, others back on defense

He’s happy. Very happy.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It goes without saying that the Falcons defense was destroyed by injuries last year. It’s nearly impossible to replace guys like Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones without a significant drop-off in performance. That’s not a knock on the guys who stepped up in their absence — I absolutely love what Damontae Kazee and Foye Oluokun did last year and their potential going into this season. Yet guys like Neal, Allen and Jones are special talents.

Dan Quinn is excited to have these guys back for another key reason: communication. In his mind, one of the key failures of the 2018 season had nothing to do with the injuries and everything to do with the communication across the defensive unit. For him, getting these guys back is about more than just the raw talent they possess. It’s about their ability to lead the defense through what they see and communicating that to the other guys on the field with them, Quinn told reporters on Wednesday.

Early on in training camp we talked about communication and the ability to play good team defense, even when you’re playing man-to-man. Talking about leverage and plays that could come up. The best defense is at the line of scrimmage. They’re making a lot of calls. They’re doing a lot of talking. We worked really hard in that space.

As fans, we understand that to succeed in the NFL, you have to have the talent to get you there. Whether it’s Keanu Neal’s ability to hit like a Mack truck or Deion Jones’ elite speed, that kind of talent matters. That’s why it’s so interesting that Dan Quinn has zeroed in on the critical importance of communication. In his style of defense, he sets guys “free” to do their thing. Yet, the only way that can succeed is if all 11 guys on the field understand what’s going on.

If this defense is going to turn the tide, they absolutely have to keep guys healthier than they did in 2018. Yet, in Dan Quinn’s mind, that’s only part of the equation. His focus on their ability to diagnose and communicate could be an even bigger factor in whether this defense takes a big step forward or continues to be a liability.

The talent of Rico, Keanu and Deion is very important. It’s their leadership and communication, though, that may matter the most.