Watch: Damontae Kazee Back at Free Safety a Step in the Right Direction
The Falcons made quite a few moves over the past year that have turned out to be lethal mistakes that have led to the team’s 1-7 record. They cut Matt Bryant and handed the placekicking duties, without competition, to Georgio Tavecchio. For Week 9 they’ll be putting their third kicker on the field after releasing Tavecchio and Bryant for a second time. They picked up the fifth-year option for Vic Beasley and saw their pass rush dwindle to a trickle. They also let 2018 nickel cornerback Brian Poole leave in free agency with the thought that Damontae Kazee could step in and play at nickel.
Dan Quinn moved Kazee back to safety in Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks but the damage has already been done. Kazee has regressed from tying for the league lead in interceptions as a safety in 2018 to being lost in the Falcons secondary this season.
The trouble is, while Kazee had a stellar 2018 as a pass defender and should have been recognized for it with a Pro Bowl appearance, there is a different skillset a player needs to play nickel and no one bothered to question whether Kazee would be a fit.
Footwork, hips position and speed are at a premium for a nickel cornerback more than they are for a safety. If a nickel misreads a route, he doesn’t have time to catch up to cover and tackle. He also doesn’t have the sideline to use as leverage in coverage.
It’s obvious that Kazee has been lost while trying to adjust to his new role this season. You can see on game film where he drops into coverage and ends up not covering anybody. Kazee has lost his aggressiveness. It’s been so bad that you have to wonder how much time was spent in OTAs and training camp to teach the new coverage techniques to him.
With assistant coach Raheem Morris being switched from wide receivers coach to defensive backs coach last week, Kazee will have someone with experience to help him adjust back to playing safety.
Unfortunately, it’s taken the Falcons eight games before making moves that are best for the coaching staff and secondary. They may be small moves, but they’re in the right direction and when the team is 1-7, you take even small wins when you can get them.