Combining the regular season and postseason, 12 Falcons players recorded at least one sack in 2016. OLB Vic Beasley, Jr. was the NFL's top performer in the regular season with 15.5.
At 37, Marquand Manuel will be one of the youngest coordinators in the NFL next season. Most people at that age would have trouble commanding players from such a high-ranking position. When people at Flowery Branch talk about Manuel, however, it's clear that won't be an issue.
"It's the communication, the training. He doesn't back off. The players know that. They're very perceptive. All players are. 'What can I get away with him?' Not very much. We've got lots of respect for the way Marquand takes care of his side," head coach Dan Quinn said. "His fire's lit, and it does not go out. He's a really passionate guy. Honestly, it's just somebody that's always constantly challenging to see if it can get done a little bit better. And honestly, that's what the essence of a competitor is."
Manuel, a former NFL safety, has quickly worked his way up the ranks by establishing himself as a fiery, bright instructor, one who's maintained the edge that defined him as a player.
He began his second career in Seattle, where he received a promotion in each of his three campaigns on Pete Carroll's staff. From assistant special teams coach to defensive assistant to assistant secondary coach, his influence on the Seahawks grew continuously from 2012-14. In the process, he left a strong impression on Quinn, then Seattle's defensive coordinator, who brought Manuel to Atlanta as the Falcons' defensive backs coach, a job he held from 2015-16.
Manuel excelled in that role and was instrumental in building Atlanta's young secondary. Under his watch, Ricardo Allen made a successful transition to free safety; Keanu Neal quickly evolved into an effective strong safety; Jalen Collins developed enough to fill in for the injured Desmond Trufant at corner; and Brian Poole, a college free agent signing, became the No. 1 nickel back right out of the gate.
Allen told AtlantaFalcons.com Manuel "doesn't give in, he doesn't budge" and is "the same coach every day." Moving forward, he'll bring that mindset and influence to the entire defense.
"He comes to work every day, and if it's not our standard, and if it's not perfect, he's going to let you know that every day," Allen said. "It doesn't matter if it's walkthrough, it doesn't matter what it is. He's going to let you know. That's the kind of coach he is.
"Yes, he's really tough in practice, but it makes the games easy. He never puts us in a compromising position. He knows that from his own play what's tough to do. So you can't tell a guy to go out there and just play zero coverage all day because that's not going to work. You're going to get beat; these are NFL players. He understands that kind of stuff. He doesn't just tell you to do something and it may be impossible to do but expects you to get it done. He knows what it takes."