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Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake building a deceptive unit for 2024

The Falcons hired Jimmy Lake as their defensive coordinator in late January. Now, four months later, Lake provides an update on how the defense is coming along in Atlanta's offseason training program.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Jimmy Lake wants the Atlanta Falcons defense to be deceptive in 2024. His players should view the scheme as simple. Their opponents should view it as complicated.

In order to do that, however, the Falcons' new defensive coordinator needs to make sure the game plan is easy to understand.

"I've always prided myself on trying to look at it through a player's lens," Lake said. "Like let me put the helmet on, let me digest that call. Would I be able to go out there and execute it at least mentally? Definitely can't do that right now physically. But can I do that mentally? If I can't do that, then us as a coaching staff, we need to go back to the drawing board and go, 'No, we need to make this simpler.'"

Lake joined the Falcons in late January, so he's still implementing his system. And he's taking his time doing so with a layered approach. The Falcons won't move on from an install until their confident in its execution. Think of it as building the foundation brick by brick, letting one set before stacking the next.

To make the process smoother, too, if there's any plays or concepts carrying over from 2023, then Lake is keeping them as-is when it comes to verbiage. That way, at least the returning players don't need to unnecessarily learn a new language.

"I want these guys to play fast. I want them to play free. I want them to play physical," Lake said. "We don't want to hold these guys back by terms and knowledge where they're thinking on the football field. That's the last thing I want them to do."

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake during OTAs at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Photo by Taylor McLaughlin/Atlanta Falcons)

The Falcons defense made major strides last season compared to the one prior. The unit improved in both points and yards allowed, going from 23rd to 18th and 27th to 11th in the NFL, respectively.

Most of the Falcons defensive starters are back from 2023, including but not limited to safety Jessie Bates III, cornerback A.J. Terrell, inside linebacker Kaden Elliss and defensive tackle David Onyemata.

Atlanta also brought in options through free agency, such as defensive end James Smith-Williams, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and two cornerbacks, and through the draft with outside linebacker Bralen Trice, inside linebacker JD Bertrand and three defensive tackles.

Though fundamentals are the current focus, the potential Lake sees excites him for 2024.

"You can definitely see in terms of how we're going to play violently and how we're going to play physically," Lake said. "You can see guys running to the ball with the intent of bringing pain, which you can't do right now."

The Falcons are in Phase 3 of their offseason program with organized team activities. Thursday marks their sixth OTA practice. They are off next week and will return June 3 for their final three OTA practices. Mandatory minicamp then runs June 10-12.

During all offseason work, contact is prohibited. Teams cannot fully suit up until preseason training camp in late July.

"Right now, advantage offense," Lake said. "… But we definitely think when the pads come on – and the pass catchers can get hit, the runner can get hit, we can try to force the ball out – advantage defense."

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