FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel inherited a young and athletic unit that has several areas ready for improvement.
The Falcons won the NFC title last season, but saw their young defense fall apart in Super Bowl LI after the offense built a 28-3 lead.
Manuel, a former player and defensive backs coach, was named to replace Richard Smith.
The Falcons, playing seven first- or second-year players, ranked 26th in rushing yards per play (4.52 yards), 28th in passing yards (266.7), 26th in sacks per pass attempts (5.19), tied for 29th in first downs per game (22.4), 26th in third-down percentage (41.78), 32nd in red-zone percentage (72.73) and 27th in points allowed (25.4).
"The main focus is on us," Manuel said of his improvement plan. "The numbers will take care of themselves. Fundamentals, if we did half of that right and finished, that would (eliminate) a lot of things we had problems with.
"As far as us finishing, there were one or two plays in each and every game that caused the offense to get their stride. How can we keep them off rhythm? Not just from the play-calling, but how can we keep them off rhythm?"
Manuel wants to get the points allowed down, play better red-zone defense and continue to have a positive turnover ratio.
"If the team doesn't score, they don't win," Manuel said. "Red-zone defense, we have to make teams kick field goals. The last thing that we talk about; it's all about the ball. If we can continue to keep that turnover ratio, if you can get two a game, you'll always be playing winning football because you're getting the offense the football back and you've got a situation where you can pretty much make the (opposing) quarterback one dimensional."
Manuel has a wealth of NFL experience to draw on. He played eight seasons as a safety in the NFL for eight different defensive coordinators. He's coached for six seasons for three more coordinators.
He's played for some of the league's most respected coordinators in Dick LeBeau, who was his first head coach, Leslie Frazier, Ray Rhodes and Gunther Cunningham. He's also coached with Gus Bradley, Dan Quinn and the man, he replaces, Richard Smith.
"It's been a blessing honestly," Manuel said. "The thing about it is, they all taught me something. I was actually blessed to have some great coaches."
So, overall, in 13 NFL seasons as a player and coach, Manuel has worked with 11 different defensive coordinators.
He will draw on all of those experiences as he calls plays for the first time during the 2017 season.
"There was a piece or a part that you took away from each one of them," said Manuel, who played at Florida under Steve Spurrier from 1998-2001 and was a four-time SEC Academic honor-roll honoree. "That's the cool part."
Part of the reason Quinn selected Marquand was because he is versed in all of the intricacies of pro defenses, but he's able to simplify things for players. As a former player, he knows how they process the information.
"I've played in every defense known to mankind," said Manuel, who played with the Bengals, Seahawks, Packers, Panthers, Broncos and Lions. "I have an understanding of how you simplify things for the players because they are the ones who perform on Sundays."