Selecting two safeties in this year's draft may have seemed like an odd strategy with two existing Pro Bowlers to man the position, but no one ever said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff followed any kind of conventional script.
With back-to-back picks in the seventh round in this year's draft, Dimitroff did just that, selecting safeties Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta with picks 243 and 244.
Both got their start with the Falcons this weekend at the team's rookie minicamp and after a long time away from the actual game of football as the draft process continued, they're glad to be back to doing what they know best.
"It feels great to be out here moving around and playing football again," Motta said Saturday. "To finally be done with that whole process of training. It feels good to come out and talk football and learn all this stuff that they're throwing at us right now. I'm just so grateful to be here and I'm excited to be out here playing with these guys."
The hiring of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator last year signaled a new opportunity for Atlanta's safety duo, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, and they responded with Pro Bowl years. Nolan utilized the versatility of the two players, allowing them to roam around the field and help disguise coverages.
The two incoming safeties may need to be as equally versatile for scheme consistency and both rookie safeties are prepared to come in and get the job done against the run game and in coverage.
"I like to think that I can do both," Motta said. "That's not me being cocky, but being at Notre Dame we played a lot of teams that had me covering guys in the slot or coming down in the box. I feel confident that I'll use my resources and learn as much as I can right now. I know that I'll make some mistakes, but as long as I'm going 100 percent, they'll see that and find a spot for me hopefully."
Both Ishmael and Motta were on the field together throughout minicamp and on Sunday Ishmael flashed some of the ability that helped him earn Conference USA's defensive player of the year award when he came down with one of the weekend's few interceptions.
"He had a very good practice today," head coach Mike Smith said on Sunday. "He had the interception, took the ball away. That was a nice play. These guys heads are swimming, but you can really see at the end of the practices they had a better understanding than where they were two days ago. That's really what we wanted to get accomplished today."
Even if their heads were swimming, both Motta and Ishmael showed they can take on a lot of the heavy responsibility asked by the Falcons of their safeties. Motta hopes he leaves an impression on the coaches that says he can handle anything.
"I'd like to think that they saw a tough, physical player that's passionate about the game of football and smart enough to pick things up quickly and go on the fly," he said. "(A guy) that knows the game of football and has been around it a long time. Wherever I fit, wherever they put me, I'm going to do everything I can to be the best at that position. I'm excited to be here and I can't wait to see what happens next."