Falcons cross-training, expanding former second-rounder’s versatility

Oliver started the 2020 season by starting against the rookie AJ Terrellbut he went to the slot after Darqueze Dennard returned from injury and Dan Quinn was relieved of his duties. Raheem Morris succeeded Quinn and appointed Jeff Ulrich the de facto defensive coordinator, who played a big part in Oliver kicking the slot – say this about changing position, “He turned out to be a very good tackler. It has the ability to support the box. Sometimes play almost safe roles. He’s got length, size, will and tackling ability, all that stuff.

I said in February 2021 that a permanent move to a safety role in Oliver’s slot could prolong his career in Atlanta, and it was harshly criticized. Slot or nickel backs are usually tasked with supporting the run and blitzing more than boundary corners due to their closeness to the ball, which is exactly where Oliver has shown life in the second half of 2020. Falcons secondary coach Jon Hoke said he was impressed with Oliver’s production once he switched positions – speaking of the kind of player he could be.

Many fans were hesitant to accept my idea that he could be a useful player in this system in the slot, but the tide finally started to turn. So much so that Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is trying to expand Oliver’s versatility by training him in safety.

“There are a few guys we are trying to train,” Smith said. “No different to the O-Line. Depending on who it is on game day, you have guys who can play in multiple locations. You only have 48 guys, and if you want to manage multiple personnel packages, which we do, you have to be able to train guys.

Oliver’s skill set dictates this role much more than the borderline corner role Dan Quinn had him in during the 2020 season. He can blitz, support the run and play a variety of covers – although he not be the elite in a single field. However, Dean Pees wants him to develop even more tools.

“(Getting safety reps) is actually something Coach (Dean) Pees loves,” oliver said. “Nickels in particular, kind of knowing the safe position because those two go together.”

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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