FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. —William Moore didn't expect to record zero tackles in a game last season, his rookie year, let alone coming up empty on tackles for the entire season.
Injuries, including a hamstring, shut Moore's season down in October when he was placed on injured reserve. The former Missouri star used last season's stumbling block to quickly determine how he didn't want his NFL career to go.
Once the offseason arrived the 25-year-old safety set out to make sure his second season with the Falcons didn't end up like his first, with frustrations around every bend.
"As a competitor it's definitely frustrating," Moore said Saturday. "That taught me a lot as far as sitting on the sideline and I got the mental part of the game. Plus this offseason, I learned how to stay on the field because I want to play the game and make contributions."
The Falcons want Moore on the field at safety, but beyond the injuries he sustained last season, the coaching staff wanted to see a more confident and communicating version on the back end of the defense. So far through OTAs and the first few days of training camp, head coach Mike Smith likes what he sees.
"William's done a very nice job," Smith said following Saturday's first practice. "He's very improved in his communication. That's the thing our safeties have to do. We do so many things with regards to our coverages, they have to be great communicators and get us checked into the right coverages."
Moore owes much of the credit to learning the art of defense directing in the Falcons' scheme to the current starters, Thomas DeCoud and Erik Coleman. Despite Moore being drafted in 2009 in the second round to possibly take his position, Coleman, a seven-year veteran, has taken him under his wing.
"I've got two great safeties in front of me," Moore said of the starters. "They definitely raised the bar competition-wise. I enjoy that. We all love that. I feed off of them. Every day those guys are going to come out and make plays, I know that. They teach me a lot in the classroom and out on the field."
As Smith said, a premium is placed on the safety position by the Falcons, and Moore realizes the player that fills that role must have confidence, the kind of confidence that can only be gained by knowing the playbook inside and out.
"Safety is a very important position in the NFL, especially on this team because we set the defense," Moore said. "That's where last year came in, finding that confidence. Now I've got a great grasp on what's going on. I feel like I know my playbook to be able to go out there and put the corner in the right position. When you can do that, you can play better."
Finding that confidence and resembling the All-American general manager Thomas Dimitroff scouted at Missouri took all offseason. Now in his second training camp, Moore lines up with the second team and his voice is the loudest of all, barking orders while his hands wave defenders around.
"I feel confident as far as physically and mentally," Moore said. "When you first come in its very challenging for every rookie. I went through a lot last year, some growing pains, but you've got to learn from them. I stayed [in Atlanta] during all OTAs and all offseason. I've got my playbook and I feel very confident now."
The confidence shows in his early-camp play and body language and Smith's excited to see Moore take the next step when the pads go on.
"We're anxious to see how he will compete when we get the pads on," Smith said. "I think he's going to look better in pads because of the skill set that he has than he will in shorts."
Pass rush pressure:The only pressure defensive end Kroy Biermann feels is the pressure he puts on himself.
After a 2009 season that saw Atlanta record only 28 sacks, every observer of the NFL said the Falcons had to improve their pass rush.
The franchise instead stood pat, believing they already had on their roster all the answers to sacking the quarterback they needed.
Entering his third season, Biermann feels the pressure to perform, but it's self inflicted.
"I think every year there's pressure to step your game up," he said Saturday. "We all want to continue to improve and become better athletes year in and year out. I want to improve on every aspect of my game and that includes pass rushing, run defense, and special teams play. Overall I'm focused on just continued improvement and taking as big of steps as I can in all those areas."
Biermann spent much of the offseason in Indianapolis working with a personal trainer, refining his body and his technical skills. He believes the additional four weeks of training he put himself through has gotten him ready to build on his five-sack 2009 season.
Injury update:Through one day of training camp the Falcons haven't sustained any serious injuries, which pleases Smith.
On Friday, rookie tight end Colin Peek tweaked his knee during practice. Smith said they would monitor the knee while he rests.
"We'll have a better idea when it settles down in the next two to three days," Smith said.
The only other players missing practice Saturday morning were Matt Giordano and Brian Finneran.
Smith said they sat out due to back spasms.
Linebacker leader:There was a moment during Friday's afternoon practice when Smith looked at middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, held his thumb and index finger centimeters apart and smiled at the third-year linebacker.
Lofton, who had already caught an interception earlier in the day and knocked away a few more, almost had another takeaway.
For the 2008 second-round pick his emphasis on pass coverage represents his role of being a leader on the team. He was as much a part of the 28th-ranked pass defense last season as the next player and he takes it personally.
"As a defensive guy, that hurts," Lofton said Saturday. "You don't want to be considered last. You play this game because you want to be the best. As a defense, that's where we want to be. We want to be the best."
As one of the leaders, he knew he had to improve. That role is one that continues to evolve for Lofton and something he takes a lot of pride in.
"Leadership is earned," he said. "No one's going to give it to you. You have to put in the extra work and you bust your tail during practice. The guys see that. That's what they want. They want someone who is going to come into work every day, have a lot of energy, and get them fired up."
Early on, Lofton's emphasis on that phase of his game is showing. His coverage is tight and he's getting his hands on some passes, including the one Smith thought should have been an interception.
Lofton knows a few interceptions mixed with his stout run defense and ferocious tackling will put him in the elite category at his position and make Pro Bowl mentions a little more common.
When asked if he'd be a Pro Bowler in 2010, he said firmly: "In my mind, yes."