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Coleman leads young Falcons secondary
Atlanta Falcon safety Erik Coleman dives during a kick blocking exercise Monday afternoon during training camp at Flowery Branch.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Long after the rest of the team hit the showers, the members of the Atlanta Falcons secondary remained on the practice field working on technique.

In the center of it all was Erik Coleman, who with five seasons under his belt is now the veteran of this young group after the Falcons released safety Lawyer Milloy in the offseason.

Coleman has embraced his new role as the leader of the secondary, and with the average age of the unit being 25, his tutelage is key.

“I think I’ve adjusted pretty well to the new role,” said Coleman, who had 95 tackles and led the team with three interceptions in 2008. “It’s just a matter of stepping up a little bit vocally.

“The guys already work hard, so it’s not like I have to push them too much,” he added. “I just try to be accountable and do the right thing and what the coaches ask of me.”

And he’s done that since the start of offseason team activities in March.

“You can’t say anything bad about Erik,” said William Moore, a rookie safety from Missouri. “From Day 1, he’s been a leader of this group.

“The way he studies the playbook and comes out here and works sets a great example,” Moore added. “I think he could coach the defense.”

At just 26, Coleman never shied from his new responsibilities. In fact, it further proved that all the hard work was worth it.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that the guys respect me in that way,” he said. “They respect me enough to listen to what I have to say and take it in and really digest it.

“I’ve been doing the right thing and have been playing well,” he added. “I just want to do the best I can to lead them in the right direction and ultimately it will help the team.”

The lessons he teaches are not only valuable on the field, but off the field as well, especially with the three rookies in the secondary.

“I think a lot of the guys get in the league and in a big city with a little money and they think it’s all about flashing and hanging out and showing off your money,” Coleman said. “But one of the things I told the guys when they got here is ‘You’re job is to play football. You’re football players first and whatever second. Let’s just take care of business and don’t let any outside distractions affect your work.’”

That message rang loud and clear to Moore, who the Falcons selected in the second round of the NFL draft.

“That’s one of the reasons why I bonded so quickly with him,” Moore said. “I’m all about football and so is he.”

It’s a good thing that Moore is on board, because if Coleman is to replace Milloy’s leadership, Moore will be asked to duplicate Milloy’s physical style of play.

“There’s no pressure on me to replace Lawyer,” Moore said. “I definitely model my game after guys like him and (Broncos safety) Brian Dawkins, but I’m going to play whatever role the team needs in order for us to win.”

For now, that role is backing up potential starter Thomas DeCoud, who along with Coleman and cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Chris Houston, are getting a first-hand look at what they need to do to shut down a high-powered offense.

While young and inexperienced, the secondary is getting tested every day in practice against Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and the rest of the Falcons offense that was sixth in the NFL in total yards last year. According to Moore and Coleman, that task will only help once the season arrives.

“Any time you play against the best it makes you want to step up your game,” Moore said. “I think our offense is one of the best in the NFL.”

The defense and secondary are trying to achieve that status.

“I think we put the pressure on ourselves to raise our level to that of the offense,” Coleman said. “To go up against these receivers every day, and as safeties we get to go against Tony Gonzalez, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

“It’s great practice and we’re taking it and trying to get better everyday and hopefully it translates to the season.”

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