FLOWERY BRANCH — Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are performing just as the Atlanta Falcons originally hoped.
Both are young starting safeties. Both were high draft picks. Both are playing at a high level.
“We’ve been real solid,” DeCoud said Thursday. “We’re getting the ball back (creating turnovers) and making solid tackles on the back end. If we keep doing what we’re doing, the sky’s the limit for us.”
Perhaps, but it won’t be without a few laughs along the way.
Moore, whom coach Mike Smith named the permanent starting strong safety over Erik Coleman this week, is kind of a cutup. He’s a guy, after all, who played tuba in the high school marching band during halftime and would put his football uniform back on to play the third quarter.
DeCoud, the starting free safety since last year, is somewhat of a straight guy who slightly protests with a grin that “William Moore’s a fun-loving guy, but I am, too.”
Either way, both players are helping to balance the makeup of a defense that’s thriving on takeaways.
“You want your team to have a bunch of different personalities because that keeps it fun,” Smith said. “I think we’ve got a number of different characters on our team, so to speak, not only on the field but in the locker room.”
DeCoud, a third-round pick out of California, and Moore, a second-round pick from Missouri, a part of general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s long-term plans of building Atlanta’s roster through the draft.
Dimitroff prefers to only acquire big-dollar free agents (running back Michael Turner in 2008 and cornerback Dunta Robinson in 2010) when necessary, and the same goes for blockbuster trades (tight end Tony Gonzalez last year).
By drafting smartly, Dimitroff has seen 12 of his 26 picks become starters and eight others earn playing time.
DeCoud and Moore have rewarded him this year by combining for 37 solo tackles, four quarterback hits, four passes defended, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
The takeaways are critical to a team that leads the NFL with 36 points scored off turnovers. First-year defensive backs coach Tim Lewis, who spent a combined seven seasons as coordinator with Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, likes how the DeCoud-Moore tandem is helping the secondary create a fun, physical identity.
“Where we can go, I don’t know,” Lewis said. “That remains to be seen. Up until this point, they’ve done a fantastic job of buying into what we’ve been trying to give them. The biggest key really is that while we’ve not been in perfect position all of the time, they are trying to reach perfection.”
Sunday at Philadelphia (3-2), the Falcons (4-1) will face an opponent that’s the league’s best with a turnover ratio of plus-57 since 1999.
Though quarterback Michael Vick is unlikely to play because of a rib injury, Philadelphia’s other three top playmakers — running back LeSean McCoy and receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson — are healthy for QB Kevin Kolb.
The Eagles are third in the NFL this year with 71 plays of 10 or more yards, and since the start of 2002, coach Andy Reid’s offense leads the league with 538 plays of 20 or more yards.
Moore is particularly excited about facing Maclin, his former teammate at Missouri and a first-round pick for Philadelphia last year. Atlanta can’t afford many mistakes against an offense that’s scored nine touchdowns on 12 possessions in the red zone.
“I know he looks forward to taking me deep and I look forward to playing with him,” Moore said. “You know his speed and you’ve got to respect what he can do.”
Thinking ahead to Sunday, Moore stopped smiling. He wants to prove he can handle being a full-time starter, just as DeCoud did as a second-year player last season. Moore missed all but two games as a rookie last season with a hamstring injury.
“Yeah, I’m really hungry,” Moore said. “I’m on one of those stages now where I’ve just got to show it. I’ve been through a lot the last two years not being able to get on the field, but I’m just focused now on getting better every day. I want to keep improving so I can be an elite safety in this league.”
Notes: Rookie LB Sean Weatherspoon, a first-round pick and former Missouri teammate of Moore and Maclin, missed his second straight practice with a knee injury.