FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Just over a year after defensive back Isaiah Oliver suffered a season-ending ACL tear last October in Week 4 against the Washington Commanders, he reflected on the process of getting to a point where he felt like himself again.
"Difficult," Oliver said with a sigh of relief. "Just kind of going through the process, it was tough, but I feel like, where I'm at now, I did all the right things. We've got a lot of great people here that helped me obviously along the way so I'm just excited to be back out."
On Wednesday, the fifth-year cornerback was designated to return to practice for the first time since training camp after being put on injured reserve when the roster was trimmed to 53.
With limited play against the Jacksonville Jaguars during preseason, it was evident that Oliver's previous injury continued to loom. Oliver was eager to be on the field, however; he and head coach Arthur Smith considered taking the route of being inactive on game day, but ultimately decided to let Oliver rest for the first four weeks of the season.
"We kind of just came up with a solution that four weeks would be the best spot for me," he said. "Even if it felt like it was a one week too long, that's not the end of the world just to give myself that comfortability and being comfortable to be able to go back out there."
Having Oliver back in the rotation will create even more depth for the defense. In the Falcons last two games against the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks, their defense held both teams to a 37.5 combined red zone conversion rate. Through the first four games, the Dean Pees-led defense has 15 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and 22 quarterback hits, all of which puts the Falcons on track to double their numbers from a season ago.
With uncertainty in the air on when exactly Oliver will return to the lineup, the anticipation to come back to a group who's been consistent in said games has been inspiring for the Colorado alum.
"The confidence is up in the whole locker room," Oliver noted. "We kind of understand how we play football. We kind of understand our identity, our brand of football and it's just a matter of being consistent at this point which is what makes up the NFL really. The most consistent teams are the best teams. It's just a matter of doing it each week."
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Following Wednesday's practice, Oliver mentioned that he will gauge his progress throughout the week as the determining factor on whether he will return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, a highly anticipated matchup for the Falcons.
"I felt like I was probably ready last week, but we kind of just had that extra week just to be 100 percent," he said.
Oliver added: "It's just a feel. I've hit all the marks; the numbers look great and all of that. It's just the feel of getting back to football. I mean, you take three weeks off of football and you kind of got to play football again but, then once I get that feeling back, I'm good to go."
Now that Oliver has been designated to return from injured reserve, he has a 21-day practice window for the Falcons to make a choice on what to do next. At the end of the three-week window, the Falcons will have to decide whether to activate him or put him on season-ending injured reserve. Oliver said he's feeling anxious, yet remaining patient throughout the entire process is key because longevity in this game is the ultimate goal.
"You want to go, but you also have to understand that there are still a lot of games left and I want to be able to be there at the end, still healthy, still rolling while we're fighting for playoff spots and things like that," he concluded. "So I don't want to come back too early just to make sure I'm there for the whole season but it's difficult kind of waiting still."
During Wednesday's press conference, Smith noted that Oliver is turning in the right direction.
"He's a very versatile player," Smith said. "He plays multiple spots for us. I'm excited to get him back and we'll see where it goes this week and if not this week, then in the future."