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'Everybody's Coming Together': Falcons CB A.J. Terrell Excited To Work With New Defensive Faces

With the addition of Casey Hayward and Lorenzo Carter, A.J. Terrell is pumped for another year in Dean Pees' system.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell isn't treating the 2022 season as one of a rebuild. Instead, he views the upcoming year as one to learn about his new teammates in hopes of proving the doubters wrong. 

A.J. Terrell PFF All-Pro Pro Bowl Snub
A.J. Terrell
A.J. Terrell

“We’ve got so many new faces,” Terrell told reporters Tuesday. “I wasn’t really focused on any of that. But, you know, those guys that are gone now definitely will be missed, but they all helped set the platform of what we’ve got now to help carry on the legacy.”

Atlanta is turning over a new leaf on both sides of the ball this fall. Gone are the days of Matt Ryan tossing touchdowns to Julio Jones. Entering the era of Marcus Mariota reuniting with former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. 

Terrell, who enters his third season, is the veteran of the secondary. Not in terms of age, but rather experience of working with coordinator Dean Pees. The Falcons elected to let safety Duron Harmon and cornerback Fabian Moreau walk in free agency. 

Although the Falcons allowed 31 touchdowns in coverage last season, both Harmon and Moreau filled the void at essential positions. Harmon, who signed a one-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, played 92 percent of the defensive snaps.  Moreau, who currently is a free agent, started 16 game opposite Terrell. 

The hope for Atlanta is that another year in the system will help other veteran adapt to Pees' scheme with ease. The Falcons also re-signed nickel defender Isaiah Oliver and safety Erik Harris on one-year contracts. They also brought in Georgia native Casey Hayward from the Raiders to replace Moreau. 

Terrell said he's excited to learn from Hayward, a former Pro Bowl cornerback with immense experience playing in Pees' style defense during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. 

"The knowledge and everything he has on me being a young player and being able to get under his wings and ask questions,” Terrell said. “I’ll know about little things going into games. I mean, just being able to pick his brain and then also just being able to vibe with him outside of football.” 

The feeling is mutual according to Hayward. 

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“It’s kind of dope,” Hayward said. “Besides me being in Green Bay, I don’t think I’ve ever had a running mate on the other side as talented as A.J. When I was with the Chargers, we had Jason Verrett, and he was probably one of the most talented guys I’ve ever been around.

"I’ve played with a lot of pretty good guys, but not as talented as A.J. is. The guy is super talented.”

The Falcons have been linked this offseason to several top cornerbacks in the early rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. Prior to the signing of Hayward and trade of Ryan, multiple scouts believed Atlanta could be the floor for Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and perhaps the starting point for LSU's Derek Stingley Jr

Safety very well could have taken over in terms of needs since the NFL Combine. Atlanta drafted Richie Grant with its second-round pick last April, but much remains unknown in terms of his skills at free safety. Grant primarily played in the nickel due to Oliver's season-ending injury and struggled to find consistency. 

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If Atlanta hopes to improve defensively, it'll have to upgrade the pass rush. Last season, the Falcons tallied a league-low 18 sacks, with Dante Fowler Jr. recording a team-high 4.5. 

That isn't an excuse for the Falcons' secondary to play poorly in coverage. Last year, Atlanta allowed 232.5 yards passing per game, which ranked 18th among all teams. 

Terrell understands that only way to show growth is through repetition. With voluntary offseason workouts underway, the hope is that in time, progress will be shown. 

“We are just building,” Terrell said. “Everybody is just coming together and doing their part.”