Atlanta's defense uses its nickel package — four down linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs — more than half the time, which means the nickel back, who often covers slot receivers, is an important part of that unit.
Based on what head coach Dan Quinn said Monday, Brian Poole could have that role locked down.
Poole, a versatile DB from University of Florida, hasn't let the "undrafted" label prevent him from becoming an impact rookie. The 5-foot-10, 211-pounder played 41 defensive snaps during the regular season opener; on Sunday, he earned 49.
Poole has been a factor on special teams, as well: He helped cause several fair catches in Week 1, and in Oakland, he made an impressive tackle inside the 20 on kickoff coverage.
So far, in his two regular season appearances, Poole has been targeted just six times on 57 passing snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and has allowed completions on half of those throws for 38 yards. When he's had to pursue a ball-carrier, he's displayed the mechanics and aggressiveness Quinn cares so deeply about.
And he's done so without missing a single tackle.
"That part of his game, when we're playing our zone and tackling, that's when I think Brian is at his best," Quinn said. "He just keeps getting better. And we're going to continue to push him and find all the different things he can do, but he has a real clear understanding of how to play that inside spot."
That coverage stood out in the film of Sunday's game. And it helped Atlanta register its first sack of 2016.
Near the end of the first half, in a 2nd and 14 situation, Poole is lined up against the slot WR, who happens to be Amari Cooper: the Pro Bowler Atlanta wanted Desmond Trufant to cover. But as the ball is snapped, Poole and Trufant criss-cross, allowing Trufant to follow Cooper, and giving Poole an opportunity to face Michael Crabtree — no small task.
On the Falcons' sack against OAK, notice Brian Poole's ability to shift from the slot to the outside and cover Michael Crabtree pic.twitter.com/gMfw4IfHBI — Andrew Hirsh (@andrewhirsh) September 20, 2016
Carr takes the snap and moves right. He doesn't think he can connect with Cooper. So as he moves to the sideline and looks for his second option he notices that wideout isn't open, either. Poole used his hip movement and general awareness to prevent Crabtree from gaining too much separation. With Derrick Shelby and Vic Beasley Jr closing in, Carr has little choice but to run out of bounds.
"Marquand (Manuel) has done an excellent job with (Poole), all the training, and now keeps getting better the more you go," Quinn said. "The more confidence you gain, you give him a little more, and more things to do. But we're going to make sure we keep him in his role playing nickel. He's doing a good job with that."