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'He shows up when the lights are on': DeMarcco Hellams' fighting spirit stands out in Falcons preseason

The Falcons No. 224 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft is fighting for a roster spot. With 53-man roster cutdowns looming, did the Alabama graduate do enough to earn one? 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In the Falcons' first preseason game of 2023, DeMarcco Hellams played in 92 percent of the defensive snaps. He led the team in tackles with seven and he had one of Atlanta's three interceptions. After the game, head coach Arthur Smith was asked about the rookie safety's performance, and what he saw from Hellams.

"It's the same thing we saw (when Hellams was) in Alabama," Smith said. "The guy is around the football."

Fast-forward a week and Smith was asked about Hellams, again. This time, it was after the Falcons' second preseason game against the Bengals at home. Hellams finished the game having played in 71 percent of the defensive snaps (even with the starters getting majority of the first-quarter reps). He was second on the team in tackles, with five. He had two passes defended, and he got his hands on the ball for an interception for the second week in a row. So, if you're keeping count, that's two games and two interceptions for Hellams.

When Smith spoke about Hellams for the second time, his comments echoed sentiments from the first time.

"He shows up when the lights are on, just like he did at Alabama," Smith said after the Falcons-Bengals tie last Friday night. "He continues to find the football. He's a good football player, and we're going to continue to work on some other things, but it's a good pattern to have two weeks in a row (where he's) going and getting the ball."


Hellams is in his rookie year in Atlanta after the Falcons drafted him No. 224 overall. He's on the bubble to make the Falcons' initial 53-man roster, because it's a safety room that will be tough to break into. It's a position that already includes Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins and Micah Abernathy. If you're looking at a hypothetical depth chart, Hellams would be the fifth safety on that list.

He's fighting to make a case for himself in the preseason, though. His play in the last two preseason games is indicative of that fight. It's a fighting mentality that has followed him for years. It's likely why Smith felt the need to reiterate that Hellams is what he was advertised as being at Alabama. It's a good thing the Falcons have a former Alabama staffer on their coaching staff to explain what that was, and what it still is for Hellams.

Dave Huxtable may be Ryan Nielsen's right-hand man when it comes to the development and play strategy of this Falcons 2023 defensive line, but he knows a thing or two about Hellams. For the last two years, he's had a front row seat as Hellams became a key figure of the most recent Crimson Tide teams.


Huxtable joined the Falcons coaching staff this offseason after two years as an analyst for Alabama. What he took from those two seasons is that practice days are hard at Alabama, as are the offseason training sessions. For Hellams' part, Huxtable never saw him shy away from the hard work necessary to see the field for Nick Saban.

"DeMarcco, he's a worker," Huxtable said, "and he's learned how to work with a good work ethic, and I think he's done a great job coming here, learning the system, maybe some new techniques, some new fundamentals. I think he's picked those things up really well, and it showed last Friday night in the game."

Something else that Friday night showed - and even the Miami game prior, too - is that Hellams doesn't shy away from contact, either. He welcomes it. He always has.

"You know what he was in college? He was a hitter," Huxtable said. "In that game Friday night? Multiple tackles coming from the safety position. He doesn't turn down a hit, and that's what he was at Alabama."

Last year, Hellams was the leading tackler for Alabama, finishing the 2022 season with 108 tackles. He was durable, too, having made 28 consecutive starts in his final college years as well as taking 400 career snaps on special teams.

During that time, Huxtable saw Hellams' football IQ rise tremendously. As we pointed out in our Finding Falcons rookie series this summer, it's the tackling, the toughness and the smarts that put Hellams on the Falcons radar.

"You don't see these ups and downs with his game," Falcons southeast area scout Shepley Heard said when Hellams was drafted. "Week to week you don't see these games where he disappears."

Even in the Falcons' preseason -- Hellams' first in the league -- he hasn't disappeared. If anything, he's flashed, even in the learning moments.

"I think where he had to improve was in the coverage aspect of the game, and our secondary coaches have done a great job teaching him not just the coverage concepts but I think the fundamentals of playing the position better," Huxtable said.

Hellams has one more opportunity this preseason to continue to show his value as a member of this 2023 Falcons team. Chances are he'll see extended playing time on Thursday night when the Falcons host the Steelers in their third and final preseason game.

It'll be a big one for Hellams, but it's nothing he hasn't faced before, and that's how he's choosing to look at it with 53-man roster cuts looming.

"It was my first NFL (experience), but the field is still 53-yards wide and 100-yards long," Hellams said after the preseason game in Miami. "It's just a different uniform, a different team."

We take a look at DeMarcco Hellams in action prior to being selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2023 NFL Draft, presented by Wells Fargo.

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