FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – There’s no one path to success in the NFL. Some players begin their career as a high draft pick, others go from being a mid-round pick to a cornerstone piece of their team. Others still may hear their name called on Day 3 of the NFL Draft and end up changing positions on their new team.
Falcons safeties Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee fit that last description to a T. Both players were selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft and converted from cornerback to free safety after arriving in Atlanta.
Given their similar start to a career in the NFL, it’s no surprise that they’ve already formed a strong bond.
“We’re kind of like twins,” Allen said. “We can do any position, we work really well together. He’s one of the best partners I can have.”
During his time at San Diego State, Kazee developed a well-deserved reputation as a ball-hawking cornerback. He had 17 interceptions in his four college seasons, including 15 in his last two years.
As a rookie last season with the Falcons, Kazee continued to display his ability to steal the ball from the offense – he had an interception on the very first day of training camp last year – but he’s had to learn how to play multiple positions and seems to have a primary role at safety instead of cornerback.
Allen has played a big role in helping Kazee learn how to make that transition.
“I respect him so much for what he has done,” Kazee said. “He still helps me, no matter what. That’s the brotherhood. That’s one guy I look up to.
“He taught me how to read formations. A lot of things, my breaks, my angles and all this other stuff. We practice on it a lot. I’ll watch film with him and he’ll critique me, as he should. That’s a big brother right there.”
During his time as the Falcons’ starting free safety, Allen has proven to be valuable as both a leader and a player. His experience and ability to put people in the correct position was invaluable when the Falcons had several rookie defenders on the field at once in 2016.
Now, Kazee is the one learning from Allen’s experience. Kazee certainly has the natural ability, and he has the versatility to be very valuable to the Falcons’ defense. After Saturday’s training camp practice, head coach Dan Quinn said they were moving Kazee around the secondary to put his versatility to good use.
“We’re trying to move Kazee around quite a bit,” Quinn said. “He has the ability to cover so we’ll try him some at nickel, he’s certainly playing safety as well.”
Understanding football at the highest level can be quite difficult, and learning multiple positions only makes things a bit more complicated. Kazee is ready for the challenge, though, and Allen is walking proof that versatility leads to opportunity.
“It can be complicated sometimes, but I signed up for this,” Kazee said. “This is what I have to do. Any position they put me at I’m just going to try it. I’m going to give 100 percent, work on it, every day.”