Vivlamore reporting from Flowery Branch.
FLOWERY BRANCH – There have, admittedly, been growing pains.
The Falcons invested high draft picks on Thomas DeCoud and William Moore with the hopes they could develop into a safety tandem for years to come. As they enter their third year together as starters neither is shy about stating the importance of this season for the duo.
“This is the year that we are really going to hit our stride in terms of knowing our own system, knowing how to play off each other and knowing what each others weaknesses are,” DeCoud said after a recent training camp practice. “It’s about time we got that ball rolling and really start playing some really, really good football.”
DeCoud was a third-round draft pick (No. 98 overall) in 2008. He re-signed with the Falcons in March before becoming a free agent. Moore followed as a second-round selection (No. 55 overall) in 2009. He has one year remaining on his original four-year deal.
The investment has been made. Now the Falcons need the payoff.
The Falcons finished 20th in the NFL in passing defense last season (236.6 yards per game) and 22nd the previous year (226.6). The blame for those numbers does not solely rest with the safeties but for the past two seasons they have served as the team’s final line of defense.
“There were a lot of mental errors,” Moore said. “I don’t want to get into the past but [former defensive coordinator Brian] Van Gorder’s system was line up and play and we had a lot of mental errors on the back end. [We] were meant for [new defensive coordinator Mike] Nolan’s defense as far as we like to move around, we like to roam a little bit. But yes, there were a lot of growing pains.”
The Falcons have challenged the pair. Last season, the team brought in veteran James Sanders. Management and coaches made it clear the move was not made to simply add depth. Veteran Chris Hope was signed this offseason.
DeCoud and Moore said they have developed chemistry over the past two seasons and that they are learning from their mistakes, acknowledging that it takes time.
“Safety is a position of experience,” DeCoud said. “There are things that you don’t see in your first year, second year, third year. In your fourth year there will be things that you haven’t seen yet. The more stuff we see, the more stuff we’ve been beaten by, the more stuff we know and know how respond or get corrected.”
While they have different builds, DeCoud and Moore consider themselves “hybrid” safeties, each capable of playing the free and strong position, each able to play up in the box or roam center field. DeCoud (6-feet, 192 pounds) is the athletic ball hawk. Moore (6-feet, 221 pounds) is the physical presence who, as he says, “every blue moon could blend with the linebackers.”
DeCoud is the loud one. He can often been heard singing, along with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, on the practice sidelines to cheer on teammates. He played all 16 games last season with 73 tackles and 19 assists. He added four interceptions, half of his career total of eight. “DeCoud, for his frame, is one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen,” Moore said. “You wouldn’t think he could stick people the way he does. I love it.”
Moore is the quiet one. His outward demeanor is more serious. He played in 12 games last season, missing four with a groin injury. He had 41 tackles and 14 assists. He added two interceptions after five the previous season. “He is a bigger body than I am, a bit more physical,” DeCoud said of Moore. “But he’s not afraid to get back in coverage.”
During a recent practice, Moore batted a pass attempt into the air. DeCoud intercepted the ball and, as he ran down field, shouted ‘If you don’t want it, I’ll take it!’
“I don’t want to sound too cocky, but the Falcons are lucky to have two hybrid safeties where one can play in the box, one can play deep, where one can play center field and one can mix it up, no matter who it is,” DeCoud said. “We carry that torch very well.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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