After losing J.J. Wilcox for the season, the Atlanta Falcons found themselves in the market for a reliable, experienced safety to backup Keanu Neal this season.
Lucky for the team, their replacement was already on the roster.
Head coach Dan Quinn said that Kemal Ishmael will spend most of his time this season playing at the strong safety position after Wilcox tore his ACL in the team’s first training camp practice.
“You know he has that in his background,” Quinn said. “He’ll work both, but probably 75 [percent at safety] and 25 [percent at linebacker]. He’s had plenty of [experience].”
Ishmael, originally a seventh round draft pick by Atlanta six years ago, came to the NFL as a safety prospect, but over time became more established as a backup linebacker.
Moreover, the 27 year old has contributed as a core special teams contributor in addition to a trusted and well respected player in the Falcons locker room during his career.
During his six seasons with the Falcons, Ishmael has recorded 231 tackles, 13 pass breakups, five interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown.
In the 2015 season, Ishmael started 10 games at the strong safety position.
Two seasons ago, he played in all 16 of the Falcons’ regular season games, recording 22 tackles, one quarterback sack, a fumble recovery, and one pass breakup.
Acquiring and maintaining experienced depth at both safety positions has been a major goal for the Falcons this offseason after what happened to their secondary in 2018.
Starting strong safety Keanu Neal, one of the best players in the NFL at his position, was lost in the Falcons’ first regular season game to a torn ACL, and starting free safety Ricardo Allen followed two weeks later with a season ending Achilles injury.
Finding adequate replacements proved difficult for Atlanta, but they did get some quality production from Damontae Kazee, who led the league with eight interceptions, but on the whole, the Falcons’ pass defense suffered badly in the absence of their starters.
In all, the Falcons finished ranked sixth worst league, allowing six yards per play on average, and their pass defense ranked 27th overall, allowing 33 passing touchdowns, the fourth most in football, and surrendered 260 air yards per game on average, also the fourth most in the NFL.