Come Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons could provide a glimpse of how their secondary might come together for years to come.
Three rookies – free safety Zeke Motta and cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford -- are slated to start in the defensive backfield as the Falcons prepare to face the embattled Washington Redskins.
Much was expected of Trufant, the first-round pick from Washington who has started all 13 games. He has met those expectations and has been a steady, disruptive force most of the season.
But Alford, a second-round pick from Southeastern Louisiana, and Motta, a seventh-round pick from Notre Dame, have been brought along at a slower pace. Alford recently surpassed veteran Asante Samuel for the starting job at left cornerback while Motta -- primarily a special-teamer -- will fill in on Sunday for veteran Thomas DeCoud, who is out with a concussion.
Fortunately for the rookies, they won’t have to chase around Robert Griffin III as the Redskins opted to bench the struggling and not fully healthy quarterback. Yet new starter Kirk Cousins is certain to take some shots against the young secondary. Cousins connected with Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown in last year’s meeting between the teams.
It will be intriguing to see how Motta responds in coverage, in particular.
All the Falcons have to be ready to help stop the run, and the sure-tackling Motta should thrive in that aspect. The Redskins, behind Alfred Morris, boast the league’s second-best rushing offense at 143.8 yards per game. The Falcons have one of the league’s worst run defenses, allowing 133.6 yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan recently discussed how disappointed he has been with tackling, and he specifically mentioned how the secondary has done a poor job in that aspect. Both DeCoud and Samuel have had their struggles tackling.
Veteran strong safety William Moore can’t do it alone, so he'll need help from the rookies.
They're capable. They just need a lot more experience. So, Sunday should be another building block toward the future.