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Why 'set the standard' is such an important phrase for Jessie Bates III, Jerry Gray and Falcons defensive backfield

Falcons secondary had resolve tested with Jeff Okudah injury last week

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – There are a list of adjectives and phrases written on the whiteboard in the Falcons defensive backs room. They are not to be erased.

Jessie Bates III and his boys won't stand for it. They are reminders of what the position group stands for, how they want to play and the way they want to represent themselves.


"We've defined it," Bates said after Tuesday's joint practice with the host Miami Dolphins. "Everybody in the room wrote down five words of what we want to be as a defensive backfield. Every day, when we turn on that film, we have something to go back to. Are we being the most physical, the most detailed, the most accountable as a position group?

"That goes a long way. I think we're doing a really good job of setting the standard, setting up the culture for our position group and for the team as a whole."

Set the standard.

Bates used that phrase more than once on Tuesday. Assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray did, too. That's a mantra of sorts for leadership on the back end and throughout the defense. Embody what you want to the Falcons defense to be in 2023.

That's the goal of every practice, every part of their game prep.

Set the standard.

That's a major reason why the Falcons spent big on Bates. They wanted someone who had been there and done that, someone who can command a room with their play and the example they set.

The safety understands that and welcomes the responsibility placed upon him after signing his four-year deal with the club.

The standard applies to everyone in the room and will help when resolve is tested. That happened last week, with Jeff Okudah was lost until early portions of the regular season with an ankle injury.

"Set the standard for the room, so there's no falloff when someone goes down and an opportunity comes up," Bates said. "Jeff has been hurt, but there's a chance for someone to take control of the open spot. We'll see where it takes us."

While Okudah's a top athlete and the unquestioned starter, the Falcons expect Tre Flowers and Mike Hughes to perform at a similarly high level.

That expectation comes from Bates, but it also comes from Gray. Safety Richie Grant credits Gray as a tone setter, someone who is the same person each day. He expects that from his defensive backs, players he wants to perform without complaint.

"If you get the guy who doesn't care if it's hot, cold, rain or snow, then you get the standard," Gray said. "You get guys who are always going to show up. We need constants, guys who are going to grow and get better as individuals and help the collective group. That's what we're looking to build here in Atlanta."

While the group comes to work together on the practice field, that DBs meeting room is their safe space, where they can speak freely and try to correct problems as the arise.

"Our goal is to let it loose and we'll figure it all out in the meeting room," Bates said. "That's where you dissect it and take a deep dive what we're doing, what works and how we can help one another."

There's a lot to unpack each day, especially with so much new in the defensive backfield. A.J. Terrell and Richie Grant are the only incumbent starters in the group, and there are plenty of new faces from different backgrounds set to play important roles in the secondary. Getting them comfortable and on the same page is as important as anything that happens defensively this preseason.

"We're a blended group, with lots of guys coming in from other places," Gray said. "Our charge right now is to figure out how we're going to be Atlanta Falcons."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work with the Miami Dolphins during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.

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