During his two years in Seattle, Dan Quinn built a championship-caliber defense by keeping things simple. His goal wasn’t to throw opponents off with unexpected configurations, nor was it to install a big, complex playbook. Rather, his unit focused on mastering several basic alignments proven to be effective.
This approach is considerably different from the Falcons’ old methodology. And while many players can benefit from such a makeover, few stand to gain more than safety Charles Godfrey.
Acquired last October, Godfrey came to the Falcons after nearly seven years in Carolina. However, despite Atlanta’s struggling pass defense, the one-time Panther rarely saw the field under Mike Smith — and when he did, it was on special teams. It seemed likely that, even if Godfrey were to return in 2015, he wouldn’t be an integral part of the organization’s plans moving forward.
Then an overhauled staff took over. Dwight Lowery signed elsewhere. And zero established free safeties were added via free agency. So Falcons brass considered filling the position internally, and when the new coaches reviewed Godfrey’s tape, they saw a potential fit.
“No. 1, he’s had a terrific experience playing safety both free and strong,” Quinn said of Godfrey. “I think the range in the middle of field is what we see, to see if he can do that and have an impact to go get the ball. Those are kind of the things that jumped out to us, from through his career up until now, and through the first few practices.”
Under Quinn, Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas was often tasked with playing a deep zone. Lots of speed and range are needed to thrive in this role, and Godfrey believes he has the physical tools to do just that.
“(I have the) ability to get to the ball and to make plays when I get to the ball,” Godfrey said. “Also, my ability to see the whole field. I have a long ways to go; I’m far from there. But the good thing is we’re going to keep watching film and keep pushing.”
The University of Iowa product added that he tends to be hard on himself and expects coaches to treat him similarly. Quinn, who’s known for his hands-on teaching style, appears to be the kind of instructor Godfrey meshes with best.
“I told them to be hard on me, because I wasn’t (playing much), and now I’m back,” he said. “So everything’s coming along. (Quinn) is staying on me every day.”
Also training at free safety are Ricardo Allen and Kemal Ishmael. Allen is a converted cornerback who spent much of 2014 on the practice squad; Ishmael’s size and run-stopping prowess make him a prototypical strong safety. One or both could surprise, true, but Godfrey has a natural skillset that lends itself to the free safety position.
There are no guarantees in this league — especially in the summer — but as of now, the free safety battle might be Godfrey’s to lose.
“I don’t let myself get complacent,” he added. “Yeah, I’m motivated, because the situation that happened (last year), I feel like it was for a reason. I feel like the man up above is always blessing me. I’m here now, and we’ll make it right.”