A.J. Terrell's approach might be exactly what Falcons need on defense 

A.J. Terrell's confident approach on the outside might be exactly what the Falcons need on defense this year 

While some have held onto A.J. Terrell's performance in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship against LSU, the former Clemson cornerback put that game in his rearview mirror and did so quickly.

Charged with covering one of the best wide receivers in college football in Ja'Marr Chase, with virtually no help in his second national championship appearance, Terrell took his lumps. Chase got the best of him on multiple occasions catching nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 45-25 win.


He took a lot of heat for his performance almost as if his play in the national championship the year before never happened. In the national title game in 2019, it was Terrell who helped kick-start Clemson's dominating win over Alabama. Terrell picked off Alabama's highly touted quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, on the Crimson Tide's opening drive and returned it for a 44-yard touchdown.

Terrell's grounded approach to football helps him thrive in a position that requires a player to constantly think forward, not backwards.

"I hope things [go] my way, but it just goes to show you how you've got to have short-term memory," Terrell said. "Keep coming back and competing and never feel satisfied with your success. Just keep on competing, not just laying down for anybody."

Those who have coached Terrell and know him personally are quick to point out why it would be ill-advised to judge the young cornerback based off of one game. Just ask Kareem Reid, Terrell's high school coach during his senior season, and he'll explain why.

"I think they need to look at his body of work and not be prisoners of the moment," Reid said. "One game doesn't define anybody's career. Anyone who really knows football and has watched Clemson play knows he's a damn good football player and he's covered a lot of good receivers and made a whole lot of plays."

Terrell, 21, is no stranger to the spotlight. A five-star recruit out of Westlake High School in Atlanta, the 13th-overall prospect by Rivals.com committed to Clemson over SEC powers Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

After his prolific high school career with the Lions in which he recorded 54 tackles and two interceptions while adding 45 catches for 717 yards and 11 touchdowns, Reid had no doubt that Terrell would go on to be successful at the next level.

Terrell did just that at Clemson. He went on to earn first-team All-ACC honors after recording 39 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions in his final season at Clemson.


At every moment in his career thus far, Terrell has attacked challenges thrown his way. That's exactly what will be expected of him in his season with the Atlanta Falcons.

"He always rose to the occasion when we played top notch competition," Reid said. "A.J. is internally motivated … nobody is going to be harder on him than himself. He's always been that kind of way. He wants to be great. The outside pressure won't bother him, he already puts enough pressure on himself to be good."

That's why Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted him with the No. 16 overall pick in this year's draft. And that's why despite some draft analysts questioning the pick, the Falcons remain confident.

When Quinn, Dimitroff and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris did their pre-draft evaluation on Terrell, they were intrigued by Terrell's elite physical skill set. But what they found to be more impressive was what came off the field, his maturity and intelligence. In just the few months of work with his new team, which has consisted of mostly virtual meetings, Terrell is earning the respect of his peers.

"He's everything a coach really wants as a player, because he's like a sponge," Joe Whitt Jr., the Falcons' secondary coach said on Tuesday. "Anything you give him; he soaks it up and then he goes out there and he tries to do it exactly the way that you asked him to do it. And that's what will give him a great opportunity to be a great player, because he has a skill set that is unique. If he can get his skill set to match the hunger that he has and the drive that he's been putting forth to learning this package and being part of this team, we could have a really good football player."

Terrell's ability to block out the outside noise and focus solely on doing his job has helped him at every moment of his career. It's no different now that he's a first-round pick expected to play a significant role in Atlanta's defense.

"I don't hold anything too big on my head if I just come in and do my job everything will take care of itself," Terrell said. "I don't really feel pressure, I [just want] to make plays at the end of the day."

The Falcons need Terrell to make plays in his first season. After back-to-back 7-9 seasons and missing the postseason each year, the expectations are high for Quinn, Dimitroff, as well as Terrell, entering the 2020 season.

Terrell will be tasked with helping Atlanta's secondary play at a higher level. The load won't solely rest on his shoulders, though.

After starting the 2019 season 1-7 and creating only four turnovers which ranked 31st in the league at the time, the Falcons' secondary showed promise in the final eight games. The defensive unit ended the season ranked No. 19 in turnovers with 20.

Quinn made a couple of critical staff changes during the bye week that also played a role in the 6-2 finish. Morris was moved from wide receivers coach to the other side of the ball to focus on the defensive backs and he and linebackers and assistant head coach Jeff Ulbrich split play-calling duties on defense.

After starting the season 1-7, the Falcons returned from the bye week as a much better team on defense. Starting with an impressive road win over the New Orleans Saints on Nov.10, the Falcons went on to defeat the Carolina Panthers twice and take down NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers to finish the season. Some consider Atlanta's win over the Saints and the 49ers on Dec. 15 as the biggest wins under Quinn's tenure.

Despite the second-half turnaround, the Falcons ranked No. 22 against the pass giving up 244.9 passing yards per game last season. This is one of the main areas the Falcons are hoping Terrell will make the biggest impact.

Terrell hasn't given anyone he's ever played for a reason to believe he won't be successful and that's exactly what the Falcons need at this time.

"They are going to get a kid who is going to play 100 percent every snap," Reid said. "He's going to be very productive for them, just like he's been his whole career since high school through college. I completely predict he'll be a Pro Bowl-caliber player in the next three years, if not sooner."

The Falcons wrapped up their conditioning program on Tuesday. Take a look at the quarterbacks and more in this gallery of images from Day 7 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.

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