New safety checks out for Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It seemed to be somewhat of a concern to see how new Atlanta Falcons safety Dez Southward missed working out at this year's NFL combine with spine and wrist injuries.

Southward told the Green Bay Press-Gazette back in March that doctors thought he might have a cracked vertebrae in his neck. Instead, he had a slight herniation. And Southward underwent surgery on his left wrist last December.

But Southward went on to perform well at his Pro Day, where he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and posted a 42-inch vertical.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff seemed unfazed about the third-round draft pick's health moving forward.

"His exclusion from the combine was healing up from his wrist fracture," Dimitroff said of Southward. "His cervical checked out positively and we're in a good spot with that as well."

Southward never missed a game in four seasons at the University of Wisconsin, which could speak volumes about his durability. He set a school record by playing in 54 games, starting 30 total and finishing his career with 28 consecutive starts.

The Falcons needed to find a safety with one-time Pro Bowl strong safety William Moore as the only proven player at the position. The team signed veteran Dwight Lowery in the offseason, but Lowery missed a big part of last season with a concussion.

Southward (6-0, 210) was on the Senior Bowl roster coached by the Falcons along with second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman, the defensive lineman out of Minnesota.

"This is a guy who is big and fast," Dimitroff said of Southward. "Really good natural agility and movement for a bigger safety. He had actually one of the best three-cone times, which is usually an indicator of body control and movement. He has cover skills and very good range for us. We think that he's got some real upside to continue to bolster this secondary group."

Southward talked about having the versatility to cover in the slot and on the corner, if necessary.

"We're bringing him in as a free safety," Dimitroff said. "A big guy who's a free safety who ran in the 4.3s is a positive."