Like many positions on the Falcons roster, the safety position has been completely reworked under GM Thomas Dimitroff's watch. What was once a forgotten position in the NFL is now regarded as a position that, when manned well, can change the style of a defense and alter games.
Atlanta's safety squad is lead by strong and steady veteran Erik Coleman at strong safety and features a young emerging talent in Thomas DeCoud.
William Moore hopes to make a case for his consideration as a starter in his second season in the NFL and veteran Matt Giordano was brought to Atlanta as a backup plan at backup.
Rookies Gabe Derricks and Rafael Bush are talented in their own right and will have a lot to prove in training camp if they expect to be among the game changers the Falcons feature at what is now considered a critical position on defense.
AtlantaFalcons.com checks in on safeties heading into camp:
Erik Coleman 7th season
Who:Signed by Atlanta as a free agent in 2008, Coleman had 116 tackles last season. The elder statesman of the secondary at 28 provides a veteran presence in the backfield of the defense. He switched from the free safety position to strong last season to allow first-year starter Thomas DeCoud to assume his old position. While some of his exciting defensive statistics dropped in 2009, his tackle totals went up and he forced two fumbles.
Why:Coleman's production understandably declined last season as he was learning a new position, but showed he's more than capable of manning strong safety. Asked to defend the pass less, his run defense improved and he still knocked away five passes. A player still in his prime, he may have some competition from Moore, but his veteran status gives him the leg up and allows him to serve as a leader on and off the field.
How:Coleman will need to maintain his run support and fend off Moore. With six years in the league, he'll need to show his best years aren't behind him. Making a few plays on the ball in the air will help his cause tremendously. He'll also be expected to mentor his primary competition in the 2008 second-round pick Moore.
Thomas DeCoud 3rd season
Who:Earned the starting free safety in training camp last season, DeCoud turned some heads and gathered some attention with his play in his first year as a starter. Finishing the season with 113 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, and seven passes defensed, the 2008 third-round pick earned a spot on USA Today's All-Joe Team.
Why:DeCoud has the ability to be a play maker and another offseason of improving and another year gaining comfort in his position will only make the 6'2", 205-pound safety better. There's Pro Bowl potential in DeCoud and he showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time often last season. Intelligent, well-spoken, and studious, he's becoming a leader on Atlanta's improving defense.
How:He'll just need to show that he's capable of continuing to improve. Nothing would disappoint the coaching staff more than to see DeCoud enter camp without a heightened knowledge of the playbook and a satisfied feel to his play. All he'll need to do is show strides from his impressive second season and continue to lead and he'll be the Opening Day starter at free safety.
Shann Schillinger Rookie
Who:A sixth-round pick this offseason out of Montana, the small-school product plays with a non-stop motor. As a senior, he lead his team with 108 tackles, earning Second-Team All-Big Sky honors. In his career as a Grizzly, he produced 255 tackles, 10 interceptions, and 19 passes defensed.
Why:Coaches love players like Schillinger, guys who want to be on the field and help the team any way they can. His straight-ahead style will be perfect on special teams and he could make a name for himself in the NFL in that discipline alone.
How:He'll need to show the jump from the FCS to the NFL isn't too massive for him to handle. If he spent the offseason studying the playbook, the coaches will be impressed. They'll want to see the 6', 202-pound safety making a difference on special teams and acting like a leader there, even as a rookie. The last Montana product, Kroy Biermann, went about his business that way and if Schillinger uses that as the model, he'll be on the 53-man roster.
William Moore 2nd season
Who:A second-round pick in 2009, Moore's rookie season was lost to injuries. Active for only two games last season, the former All American at Missouri produced only one tackle. A stellar career as a Tiger including First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big 12 recognition shows Moore's got the talent to produce in a significant way in the NFL.
Why:When healthy and on the field, Moore's a naturally gifted athlete with an ability to be around the ball in the air and on the ground at the free safety. His school record eight interceptions in 2007 hint that the 6', 218-pound safety has recognition skills and can be a ball hawk.
How:The coaching staff hopes the injury bug is behind him and Moore can put everything into his play in 2010. They'd like to see the coverage skills he displayed in college manifest itself in the pro ranks. It'll also be important that Moore show a fearless attitude in run support and tackling. He's too high of a draft pick for the franchise to give up on this early in his career.
Matt Giordano 6th season
Who:Signed by Atlanta as a free agent this past offseason, Giordano has spent time with the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. In his career, he has 66 tackles and three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. He's also known as a valuable special teams contributor.
Why:Giordano's role is to serve as a backup and play special teams. He only had three tackles as a member of the Packers special teams unit last season, but showed an ability to be near the ball. Not flashy, but very solid, he provides a veteran presence in a backup role.
How:He'll earn a spot on the team mainly with his production on special teams. He's got a lot of competition, but his experience in the NFL gives him a leg up over the rest. It'll be a challenge, but the coaching staff will want to see him selling out on special teams and a big play or two on defense will only help his cause.
Gabe Derricks Rookie
Who:A three-time First-Team All-Pioneer league selection at San Diego, Derricks was added to the Falcons roster in April as an undrafted free agent. A four-year starter, the 6'3", 202-pound defensive back recorded 58 tackles, one interception, two pass break ups, and one forced fumble in 2009.
Why:The 22-year-old rookie has impressive size and can line up at his college position of cornerback or safety in the NFL. His size allows him to play with a physical style and can also make him a force on special teams.
How:Derricks has a long way to climb, but there's potential there and his football build is tough to ignore for a member of the secondary. He'll need to show a willingness to learn special teams and could be a sleeper for the practice squad.
Rafael Bush Rookie
Who:An undrafted rookie free-agent addition during the offseason Bush was a highly productive member of the South Carolina State defense as a senior, totaling 222 tackles and scoring three touchdowns.
Why: At times, Bush looked like a man among boys at SCSU, but as a professional things will be different. But his production in college can't be ignored and there may be a little Jessie Tuggle lurking within Bush.
How:Like his rookie counterpart, Bush has a lot of work to do to impress the coaching staff. He'll need to prove he's got the playbook better than anyone else and put it into action on the field. Like all young players on Atlanta's roster, he'll need to play special teams and play it well. A stint on the practice squad is not out of the question for the South Carolina native.