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Damontae Kazee still rates himself as average despite hot start

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie defensive back Damontee Kazee is a tough critic.

After a hot start to training camp, which included a couple interceptions, the fifth-round draft pick from San Diego State gave himself a ``D'' for a grade. Although Falcons coach Dan Quinn praised Kazee's play on special teams and on defense during last Thursday's 23-20 exhibition loss at Miami, Kazee was far from satisfied.

"I give it a low C, just looking at the film," Kazee said of his first live action as a Falcon. "I've got to get better in technique areas and everything. The speed was there, but my technique wasn't. I need to get better."

When Kazee joined the Falcons, the coaches had plans to play him at both nickel back and free safety after he played primarily outside at right cornerback in college. The experiment didn't last long as he eventually found himself solely at free safety with the second unit.

"It feels better, just focusing on one thing," Kazee said. "I could learn that position."

The Falcons certainly need to establish some depth behind starter Ricardo Allen, who played 1,050 snaps in 16 regular-season games last season and played 98 of 99 defensive snaps in a 34-28 overtime loss to New England in Super Bowl LI. Allen was limited some during training camp with a sore shoulder and so was starting strong safety Keanu Neal (strain), allowing Kazee to gets some first-team reps.

Kazee is more than willing to serve as Allen's understudy.

"He's a mentor," Kazee said of Allen. "I love Rico. He brings good energy. He's like my big brother out there."

Naturally, Kazee wants to contribute on defense wherever he can this season. The Falcons know he has ball-hawking ability, as he nearly picked off a third pass on the final day of training camp. Kazee set a San Diego State record with 17 career interceptions.

But as the regular season approaches, Kazee knows he has to do the bulk of his dirty work on special teams. Quinn already praised Kazee's physicality, and that will be a great asset when the 5-foot-11, 190-pound rookie is trying to make a play on special teams.

"People just think I'm small and I don't come with a hit or nothing," Kazee said. "But I'm very physical. I like to fight. I like to hit."