Safety Jessie Bates III on Falcons secondary vision: ‘I truly believe in everything that they’re doing’

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Jessie Bates III isn’t having second thoughts about the Atlanta Falcons’ secondary.

Safety Jessie Bates III on Falcons secondary vision: 'I truly believe in everything that they're doing'

The defense may have a new coordinator in Jimmy Lake. The position group may have a new coach in Justin Hood. And the Falcons may not have brought in a single defensive back through the 2024 NFL Draft.

But the safety feels, well, safe entering his second year in Atlanta.

“There’s no question about what Terry (Fontenot, general manager) and those guys got going upstairs,” Bates said last Tuesday. “I truly believe in everything that they’re doing. They’re going to build this thing the right way.”

Many of the pieces are already in place, including Jerry Gray who remains the Falcons assistant head coach/defense with a speciality focus on the secondary.

Bates will undoubtedly be one of starting safeties. Richie Grant and/or DeMarcco Hellams will likely be the other. Grant started all but two games in the backfield with Bates last season. Hellams was a seventh round draft pick in 2023 who ended up seeing action in 15 games, making four starts by the season’s end.

A.J. Terrell is one of the given cornerbacks. His partner, however, is a question mark. There are options.

Clark Phillips III is back, having started five games last year across Terrell. Phillips took over at the position for Jeff Okudah, who’s now with the Houston Texans anyway.

Dee Alford and Mike Hughes then return for the nickel role, but both have outside corner reps, too, if needed.

“I thought last year those guys did a really good job,” Bates said. “They were almost thrown in the fire, and I thought the responded well.

“But this is a new year. That’s something that no matter if you’re a practice squad player, no matter if you’re a Pro Bowl player, this is a new year. You got to reset goals. You got to kind of humble yourself all over again. Don’t forget that dog that you’ve got in you, but you got to hit that reset button.”

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Because even though the Falcons didn’t draft a defensive back, they did bring some in through free agency, both veterans and rookies, specifically at cornerback.

Kevin King is now in Atlanta and was a starter for the Green Bay Packers before he sat out the 2022-23 seasons due to personal reasons and an injury. Antonio Hamilton Sr. also joins the Falcons and was most recently a partial starter for the Arizona Cardinals, peaking with nine starts in 2023.

The Falcons also agreed to terms with three undrafted players: Jayden Price (North Dakota State), Anthony Sao (MidAmerica Nazarene) and Trey Vaval (Minnesota-State Mankato).

“We got a good group,” Bates said. “Excited to continue to be a leader in that group and also in the defense.”

Bates was a massive offseason acquisition for the Falcons last year who truly proved his worth in Year 1. He led the team in tackles (132), pass breakups (11), interceptions (six), forced fumbles (three; tied linebacker Nate Landman) and had a pick-six.

The Falcons as a whole ranked 11th in total yards allowed, jumping from 27th in 2022. They were top 10 in third-down conversion rate (third), red-zone success rate (fourth), passing yards allowed (eighth) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (ninth).

“I think Jimmy Lake has an idea of what we can do,” Bates said. “We’re going to be under his defense now – maybe a different terminology here and there – but we’ll be fast, physical and nasty, just like last year.”

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