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Jessie Bates III has a meticulous attention to detail and practice-week routine that helps separate him from other safeties.

He explains where it came from and how his mother and son have impacted his drive, leadership and willingness to go the extra mile.

Every week when Theresa Trotter flies in for Falcons games, friends back in Fort Wayne, Indiana think she's going to visit her son. In reality, she'll only spend pockets of time with star safety Jessie Bates III before and after the game. By the time she arrives late on Friday nights, Bates is up breaking down film.  

Studying opponents is a continuous process for Bates that begins long before Friday. His mom will often call to check in during the week, and that's exactly what Bates is doing — watching film. At home, he has a whole setup with a big monitor and comfy couches. At the facility, Bates carries around two iPads, a team-issued device for reviewing tape and a personal one for taking notes. 

"Film study has always been my way of separating from other players," Bates said. "That's what I love. That's the part a lot of people don't see every day – the grind, the amount of time that you put into film to shine and make plays on Sunday."

When Bates was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, he'd write notes out by hand. It wasn't until his third year that he noticed veteran safety Vonn Bell using the digital method. Bates quickly adopted it and took full advantage of the tablet's technology by creating folders on every offensive coordinator, taking notes by hand that form into text on the tablet and utilizing iCloud so he can swiftly shift between devices. 

Teammates sometimes take jabs at Bates for his extensive setup, but it has paid off. Intense study helped him record six interceptions, three forced fumbles along with an All-Pro second-team honor and a Pro Bowl selection in his sixth season and first with Atlanta.

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While the accolades have increased and quarterbacks around the league take special notice of Bates across the line of scrimmage, it wasn't always that way. The 6-foot-1 defensive back didn't grow into his frame until after his sophomore year in high school. Before then, Bates was a smaller kid who won with fight and heart.  That experience motivated him to find another competitive advantage which drew him to the film room. 

Even after the Bengals made Bates a second-round pick, there were still some who viewed him as undersized and overlooked him. Falcons secondary coach Steve Jackson was with Bates in Cincinnati as the secondary/cornerbacks coach in 2020 and vividly remembers his initial glimpse of the young safety. 

"'Who's this little guy?'" Jackson said recently, recalling his first impression of Bates. Then Jackson witnessed Bates' methodical preparation before taking the field, studying the game plan like it was an important exam. 

"He knows what he sees on tape," Jackson said. "He's not afraid to excel in those moments." 

Jerry Gray, Falcons assistant head coach/defense, had a similar experience when Bates signed with Atlanta last spring. Gray said the offseason workouts and training camp are all about athletic ability, but when the season started he saw the best of Bates and his high football IQ.  

"I put him up there with all the top guys that I've ever coached," Gray said. 

Gray's coaching tenure dates back almost 30 years. He knows when a player is elite. He says "the NFL is an open-book test" — all the material is accessible. He also knows Bates studies the game like a veteran who knows you get better in the meeting room, maybe more than on the practice field. 

Gray says that players are behind if they start preparation on Wednesday when practice begins. That's why Tuesdays are so important. 

Bates understands this well, even though it's a player's off day. 

After players got in an extra lift on Tuesday mornings, Bates would gather the defensive backs and linebackers for a players-only film session. Rookies Clark Phillips III, DeMarcco Hellams and Natrone Brooks rotated to pick up Chick-fil-A; it's the same order every time: chicken biscuits, chicken minis (a crowd favorite), hash browns and orange juice.

Then they review cut-ups of the previous game and give keys to the coaching staff as they set up the game plan. Gray said the Falcons have made adjustments based on the findings Bates and company came up with in those meetings. 

The two groups got a chance to get on the same page in a way they wouldn't during specific room or full team meetings. Falcons inside linebacker Kaden Elliss said there were moments throughout games when he could feel the payoff of those meetings. 

"It's really just trying to be the kind of glue between the two groups to make sure that, 'You see it this way, we see it this way," Elliss said "'Alright, how does that come together so there's no leakage left in whatever you're running?'" 

Phillips pointed to a specific moment when he saw the meetings come alive on the gridiron. In Week 1, the rookie defensive back watched how Bates broke down Bryce Young's tendencies despite the 2023 No. 1 overall pick not yet taking a single professional snap. In the season opener, Bates gave the Carolina Panthers quarterback a strong welcome-to-the-NFL moment by intercepting Young twice while also recording a forced fumble. 

While in college at Utah, Phillips took part in a weekly players-only defensive backs meeting, but not one that also involved the linebackers. That was something Bates carried with him from his time with the Bengals, where he started the sessions.   

It wasn't required for Bates to lead players on Tuesdays, but it's extra preparation that's second nature to him worthy of passing along.

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Going the extra mile was something Bates learned as a child, watching his mother care for three children as a single parent providing them everything needed and without fail. Trotter worked two jobs, at a handbag manufacturer and cleaning company, to make ends meet. 

Trotter learned to write everything down in a planner to stay on top of everything from Bates' endless sports schedule to his siblings' activities. Bates noticed how organized she was amidst the day-to-day chaos. It taught Bates to use her methods in everything, including football. 

"It's pretty cool to see stuff that I've seen my mom do over time, it's something that I picked up very naturally," Bates said. "It's paid off." 

Trotter never wanted her children to see her struggle, but Bates and his older sister, Aaliyah, observed her closely. They saw their mother work overtime to give them a worry-free childhood. It's why Bates started his Single Mothers Initiative during his rookie season in Cincinnati. He has continued helping out single mothers through the program each year. This season, he has pledged to donate $1 million to single mothers. 

"I never wanted the kids to ever not have what they needed because they don't have somebody else helping out," Trotter said. "I just kind of always went above and beyond." 

Around the Falcons organization, Bates is also known to write every little thing down. Gray said it's rare for a player, especially in 2023, to be so meticulous. When they have conversations about opposing offenses, Bates will oftentimes pull up his notes to reference a detail he has previously observed. 

Jackson joked that he's extra careful about what he says around Bates because he doesn't want anything unsatisfactory or inflammatory written down on the permanent record. 

"If you say something in a meeting, he's going to hold you to it," Jackson said. "He's going to write it down."

The notetaking extends off the field, too, as Bates mirrors his mom's planning in his personal life. Once Bates was out on his own for the first time in his NFL rookie season, Trotter noticed him falling behind on obligations. She nudged him in the right direction and asked, "Remember what we used to do?" 

Towards the end of the 2018 season, she gifted him a custom-made planner for Christmas. Every year, she gives him a similar variation of the same gift — a black journal with gold lettering that reads "JB3" and his motto, "Just Believe." It's a stark contrast from her dollar-store planner, but she made sure it was special enough that he would want to carry it around. 

Along with his preparation, Bates credits his mom for his leadership.

"Leadership doesn't come out of nowhere," Bates said. "There has to be some type of foundation that it comes from...she set that foundation."

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Trotter always picked up on a subtle, natural leadership quality in her son that people gravitated towards. That was evident when he was voted as a team captain in his first year in Atlanta, a rarity for new signings. It was crystal clear after defensive lineman Grady Jarrett – the public face of the franchise – went down with a season-ending knee injury and Bates took over for him speaking to the team pregame and postgame.

His first year in Atlanta coincided with a larger life step — becoming a first-time father. Jessie Bates IV was born last summer making this career season all more rewarding and difficult.

More than anything else, that has changed Bates the most.

"The main thing I've been saying all year was just becoming a father," Bates said. "I think that's what really has flipped for me."

Every morning at 6 a.m. during the 2023 season, Bates would kiss his son on the cheek and then head to the Falcons practice facility. It's a flashback moment as he recalls his mom doing the same every day before she'd leave for work. He's following in her footsteps now in more ways than one.

Trotter said fatherhood has given Bates something else to be proud of in addition to the career highs he's recorded this season. Bates has had to be more strategic with his time since becoming a father. Luckily, he's got a planner for that.

"There's no going back home and just doing whatever you want to do," Bates said. "There's actually a kid at home and you got to be a leader."

Oftentimes when Trotter has called Bates to catch up this season, not only is he breaking down tape, but his son is sitting on his lap watching film alongside him.

Bates spent hours poring over tape on the Saints offense Tuesday and throughout the week heading into the Week 12 game against New Orleans. He intently studied Saints quarterback Derek Carr and, leaning on his bedrock preparation, picked up on how to bait Carr into an interception. In the first quarter, Bates did just that.

Bates recognized the play the Saints called; it was a common design many teams run on third down. He identified it quickly, and when he saw receiver Rashid Shaheed in motion before the snap, Bates knew where the ball was going. He read Carr's eyes the entire time and picked off his fourth interception of the season and took it 92 yards to the house. Bates' second career touchdown was a moment he wanted to share.

The Bates family commemorated the fourth pick with a momentous celebration after the game with a special cake and balloons in honor of his son, the fourth generation of Jessie Bates.

Bates said there are still things he's learning as a father that he never experienced, and he's trying to close that gap for the next generation. However, there is one thing he also learned from Trotter — which is perhaps the most significant — just being present and there for his son.

"Just making sure that he feels loved," Bates said. "That's all that really matters, that's the biggest thing."

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