FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – While Falcons first-round pick Calvin Ridley made several eye-opening plays in Atlanta's 28-14 preseason loss to Kansas City, Isaiah Oliver, the team's second-round pick, learned a big lesson.
Early in the third quarter, Oliver failed to jam Chiefs receiver Gehrig Dieter, who ran right past the Falcons defender and caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Henne.
"That's life on the island out on the freeway," Quinn said. "When you play at the line of scrimmage like we do, people are going to try you. And on that one he got beat. There were no excuses, which I liked. I kind of went away to test him right away to see where his head [was at], saying, 'Hey, what happened?' He didn't offer any excuse to say what happened and he responded right away."
Oliver is an athletic corner who has long arms and can play a physical style of football. What let the 6-foot-1, 195-pound rookie down on that play, according to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, was a breakdown in proper technique.
While the play certainly wasn't a good one for Oliver, it provided an important opportunity to show how he could respond to his mistakes.
"Those are ones that you want to see how you respond," Quinn said. "You don't like to see it happen, but the technique on that play wasn't good. The analogy I'll use – it's not a good one – is 'Hey man, don't touch the stove, it's hot.' And [you think] 'OK, maybe I believe you, maybe I don't.' And, [you] got burned."
The Falcons like their cornerbacks to play close to the line of scrimmage instead of employing the off-man approach that Oliver played a good deal of while at the University of Colorado. Oliver had 82 tackles, 25 pass breakups and three interceptions during his college career, and he looked sharp at times during training camp, so the Falcons remain excited about his future.
This was just one of many lessons Oliver is sure to learn as he starts his first season in the NFL, and it's best to make mistakes now before the games begin to matter.
"He's another one that we're really encouraged about, the work that he's putting in," Quinn said. "He's a terrific athlete with ball skills. On that one, I didn't like the play, but there were other ones in the game. I thought he had a good special on special teams, he covered some other deep balls.
"I don't like that it happened but, in some instances, you have to have some on the job training. No better place than out on the field, especially in the exhibition season."
Quinn confident in plan to hold Jones, Freeman out
Earlier this week, Quinn explained that it was unlikely either Julio Jones or Devonta Freeman would play in any preseason game this year. Those decisions were made on an individual basis and took each player's health and performance into account. That neither player is expected to suit up is an indicator that Jones and Freeman are healthy and have looked sharp thus far.
"If he had come into camp and felt like he needed more [reps] that would have been something we needed to discuss," Quinn said. "But he really came in fit and ready, talking about Julio, specifically. As far as Free goes, it was really a decision that I had made probably back in the spring. I was hoping to go that way. And the way he's responded and the camp he's had has been nothing short of impressive. It's an excellent model for a guy like Ito Smith to say, 'Just watch and you'll see [how] a real competitor goes for it.'"
Falcons liked what they 'saw on tape' from Fowler
The Falcons made a pair of moves on Monday, including the signing of former Tennessee Titans fullback Jalston Fowler. Atlanta has an opening at fullback for the coming season and Fowler will become the newest competition for Ricky Ortiz.
"We liked what we saw on tape from the speed of it," Quinn said of Fowler. "The fullback spot for us, [Ortiz] is clearly in the lead for that, but Fowler was somebody that we definitely have interest in. The fact that he was healthy he's able to come and run and do it. So we're glad that he's here, and we're looking forward to taking a good look at him here in practice and in this weekend's game, too – really in the next two games."
Oliver isn't the only player looking to bounce back
After infusing the Falcons' offense with life in their first preseason game against the Jets, quarterback Kurt Benkert had a tougher time against the Chiefs. Against the Jets, Benkert was 9 of 17 for 125 yards and a late interception, but he was just 3 of 8 for 30 yards with a bad interception against the Chiefs. That type of inconsistency is all part of life for an NFL quarterback, but Quinn explained it's his ability to bounce back that has impressed.
"Here's what I know I love about him," Quinn said, "the resiliency to come back and battle for it at practice the last two days. That part was really what I was watching for from afar. Sometimes at those positions it's how you get back up. Certainly, that's one that he's ready to go and play again."