Jimmy Lake named Falcons defensive

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have hired Jimmy Lake to be the defensive coordinator in Atlanta, the team announced on Monday night.

The pact reunites Lake with new Falcons head coach Raheem Morris for the third time in his career.

Morris and Lake first crossed professional paths in 2007, when Lake was Morris’ assistant defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay for one season. After a year with the Detroit Lions as their defensive backs coach, Lake returned to the Buccaneers organization in 2010 when Morris took over as the Tampa Bay head coach. Lake was charged with back-filling Morris’ previous job as the defensive backs coach. Lake was on Morris’ staff until 2011.

For the next decade thereafter, Lake established himself amongst the college football landscape. He coached the defensive back units for Boise State from 2012-13 before moving up the coaching ranks with Washington, going from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator to head coach over the next seven seasons.

During his years as the Huskies’ defensive coordinator, Lake’s units sat atop the conference in many statistical categories, according to the Los Angeles Rams team website.

In 2018, the Washington defense led the Pac-12 conference in points allowed per game (15.5) and total defense (301.8 yards per game). They also ranked second in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, passing yards allowed and pass efficiency.

From 2016-17, when Lake was the Huskies’ co-defensive coordinator alongside Pete Kwiatkowski, the Washington defensive unit led the conference in total defense and scoring defense in both seasons. By 2017, Washington was ranked in the top-10 nationally in those two categories, along with leading the nation in fewest yards allowed per completion. The year before, they led all FBS teams in the turnover margin and takeaways.

During this time, Lake coached players like Trent McDuffie (Chiefs), Taylor Rapp (Bills) and Zeke Turner (Cardinals).

As the head coach of the Huskies from 2020-21, Lake’s overall record was 7-6. Washington was 6-4 in conference play.

The limited number of games in Lake’s two-season tenure was a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pac-12 chose to play a shortened season in the form of a seven-game, conference only schedule. The Huskies did finish atop the North Division with a 3-1 record. However, the team did not have a chance to play in the conference championship because of a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the team.

The next year saw the return to a nine-game schedule. The Huskies dropped to a 4-5 record overall, putting them fifth in the Pac-12 North Division.

On Nov. 8, 2021, Lake was suspended without pay after Washington’s loss to rival Oregon following a sideline incident with a player. He was relieved of his head coaching duties six days later on Nov. 14, 2021.

After stepping away from the gridiron for the 2022 season, Lake reemerged on Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams coaching staff. He was named the Rams’ assistant head coach in Feb. 2023 and worked side-by-side with Morris throughout this most recent season, which saw the Rams make it to the NFC Wild Card round with a 10-7 record.

Now, Lake will reunite with Morris and take over a Falcons defensive unit that went from 21 sacks in 2022 to 42 in 2023, making the largest year-over-year improvement in the NFL in 2023 and the largest improvement by a Falcons team since at least 2000. What’s more, Atlanta’s defense improved from 26th in the league in yards per play allowed to seventh, and from 31st in the league in third-down stops to third.

In the secondary, Lake’s bread and butter, the Falcons will see the return of Jessie Bates III after a second-team All-Pro year and a Pro Bowl selection. A.J. Terrell will also return to play on his fifth-year option. Terrell and Grady Jarrett, who’ll make a comeback in 2024 from a season-ending knee injury, are the only two defensive starters who were a part of a Morris-coached defense when he was defensive coordinator and, for the final 11 games, interim head coach in 2020.

It has yet to be announced just who – Morris or Lake, or a combination of both – will call plays for the defense in 2024.

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