When the 2015 Draft came to an end, Atlanta's talent evaluators quickly zeroed in on a cornerback who, despite not being an ideal scheme fit, has the skill needed to play in the NFL. They did the same when the initial wave of free agency passed by.
And when the Falcons took the field for their preseason opener, both of those acquisitions were part of the first-team defense.
Kevin White and Phillip Adams—an undrafted rookie and a seven-year pro, respectively—have impressed nearly everyone at XFINITY® Training Camp. The former has quickly learned Dan Quinn's playbook and adjusted to stiffer competition; the latter has accomplished exactly what he's done since he joined the league: execute what the coaches ask of him.
The Falcons struggled to defend the pass last year, and mending this deficiency will be one of the most important keys to a successful campaign. To do this, Atlanta will need CBs other than Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to provide consistent, effective coverage.
If the past month is any indication, White and Adams have what it takes to do just that.
"They battle," said defensive backs coach Marquand Manual. "That's one thing you can say about White from Day 1. He's not our profile fit, but he gets out there and he step kicks and he's on top. He battles down in and down out. I'm impressed with him … He's a good football player and he's going to battle it out to the end.
"Phillip (is) a solid vet. Just doing what we ask him to do. Don't make things up. Goes out there and stays on top."
The recent injury to Trufant (he's listed as day-to-day with a hurt shoulder) has given White an opportunity to play opposite of Alford. Not only did he line up there versus Tennessee—he was on the field for more snaps than every defensive player not named Stansly Maponga.
Based on the eye test, White performed well in his first NFL appearance. His mechanics were sound; he almost always kept the play in front of him; and, most importantly, he fared well during his man-to-man assignments.
The numbers paint a similar picture. Pro Football Focus gave White the second-best pass coverage grade on Atlanta—behind only Justin Durant, who picked off Marcus Mariota early in the first quarter.
"Kevin's done a good job, especially competing for the ball," said Quinn. "So he's absolutely got our attention in that way."
Adams on Friday saw time at corner and nickel, just as he did in the week of practice leading up to that game. And, like he's done throughout camp, the South Carolina State graduate held his own.
"I think (what I notice is) his quickness when he plays inside at nickel," Quinn said about Adams. "He is such a smart guy, and he knows how to break."
Like White, Adams did fine in man coverage against the Titans. This was evident when Tyson Jackson registered his sack. After a fake handoff, Mariota looked right to WR Harry Douglas, but the former Falcon was covered perfectly by Adams.
By the time Mariota noticed a passing lane elsewhere, Jackson was wreaking havoc in the backfield.
White and Adams still have a long way to go, but a productive August has been a big, crucial step in the right direction. If these two can build on a strong camp, Atlanta's defensive backfield should receive the kind of boost it needs to reach the next level.
"We've had fun," White said. "It's definitely a learning experience. I like the challenge to go against the best receivers in the world. It makes me better."