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Training camp preview: Erik Harris, Duron Harmon lead new safety crew

Veteran talent should help in 2021, with Richie Grant representing hope for future

Atlanta Falcons strong safety Duron Harmon #21 in action during organized team activities on June 15, 2021.
Atlanta Falcons strong safety Duron Harmon #21 in action during organized team activities on June 15, 2021.

The Falcons safety corps looks completely different this year over last.

Keanu Neal is in Dallas. Oh, and now he’s a linebacker. Ricardo Allen is in Cincinnati after being a six-season mainstay in the Falcons defensive backfield.

Enter Erik Harris and Duron Harmon, savvy veteran free-agents ready to contribute in 2021.

That, my friends, marks a true changing of the guard. It doesn't, however, mean the position group is truly settled.

The Falcons drafted Richie Grant in this year's second round hoping he can take hold of one safety spot long-term. That isn't expected to start this season. Maybe, though more likely not. Jaylinn Hawkins played some last season but remains a work in progress.

That makes it probable Harris and Harmon take the reins in 2021, unless training camp competition dictates a personnel shift.


Having veteran leadership at safety should help the secondary transition to Dean Pees' defense and increase communication in the secondary and from the back end forward.

Harmon's a real pro with big-game experience after seven seasons in New England. The Patriots certainly taught him a winning mentality, something vital to a Falcons team that lost too many leads last season. He spent 2020 in Detroit as an every-down player and came to the Atlanta relatively late in the offseason. It was a welcome addition for a pass defense looking to improve upon a dismal showing in 2020.

I've seen Harris take tons of snaps while I covered the Raiders. He's an underrated player and a good pickup. Harris is a smart safety and team leader with a real nose for the ball, capable of making quarterbacks pay for errant throws. I'll go into greater detail about his incredible backstory later in camp, but trust that he loves every moment spent playing NFL football. He gives each snap maximum effort and is a stable presence in the secondary.

Fans should get to know these guys more this summer while keeping a close eye on the young players.

Some expected Grant to be drafted in the first round, and the Falcons should be thrilled he reached the second. He's a versatile player who can play deep or in the box, draft analysts say, and can match up well with tight ends. The offseason program was focused on installing new schemes, so camp should offer the first progress report on his NFL transition.

Hawkins got some experience at strong safety last year and could be an option in the box, though safety spots are becoming more interchangeable these days and Harris and Harmon can play anywhere despite both of them being listed at free safety. Hawkins is another interesting talent worth following closely this summer to see if he can contribute soon or farther down the line.

The Falcons have several undrafted rookies at the safety spot, though it might be tough to crack the roster without a standout camp and preseason. The Falcons are looking to get better now and in the future, with a good mix to accomplish both goals.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London #5 during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

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