A.J. Terrell was recently asked about his offseason projects heading into for 2023 campaign. The top cornerback's answer was somewhat surprising.
He didn't mention technical refinement or improved agility and burst, which sort of makes sense. He's got all that already.
Terrell brought up something altogether different.
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"I'm focused on taking care of my body," he said on June 7. "The older we get, the more the body wants to shut down. I'm already starting to feel it and understand what the older guys have been talking about all these years. You have to respect the body and do what I'm supposed to do to be able to come out here and play at 100 percent."
The older we get? That initially sounds odd coming from a 24-year old entering his fourth NFL season. Think about it a bit longer and there's some logic behind it.
While Terrell has been excellent since being selected No. 16 overall back in 2020, especially during a dominant 2021 season where he was a second-team All-Pro, he has dealt with some injury issues that kept him out of the lineup.
This just might be a reaction to missing three games last year with a hamstring injury. It could also be the wear and tear of playing a daunting position the way he does, as a physical cover man who doesn't shy away from big hits or run defense.
The best way to stay on the field and make the greatest impact, Terrell says, is doing whatever it takes to remain healthy and available to his team. While he may not say it out loud, Terrell must know deep down how valuable he is to the Falcons. That's why he's focused on staying healthy.
"It's about pre-hab over rehab," Terrell said. "Even when I'm not hurt, I try to stay on top of things and do everything the right way."
The sky's the limit if Terrell can stay healthy and available. He as to know that, too, especially getting ever closer to a contract extension and the next phase of what he hopes to be a long and storied career.
It's a smart angle to take this early. Talk to most older veterans, Calias Campbell included, and they'll all say they wish they would've started the "pre-hab over rehab" practice earlier than they needed to, earlier than they did.
When Terrell's on the field and feeling great, there are few better at the cornerback position. That's not an out-there statement, either. It's a generally agreed-upon line of thought. His talent, combined with a dogged mentality, sets him up for success.
"He's a competitor," Falcons secondary coach Steven Jackson said. "It doesn't matter the technique or the situation, he's going to do his job. What he does is go out there and win every single play. He's a competitor to the umpteenth degree."
So is Jeff Okudah, another 2020 first-round pick, who will likely line up opposite Terrell after the Falcons acquired him in trade from Detroit. Those to supreme talents are already trying to make each other better.
"We're going to push each other every single day," Okudah said. "We're natural competitors. When we step on the field, we want to be the best we can be."
The Falcons secondary will benefit if that's the case. While Terrell has been steady, the Falcons have struggled to cover consistently opposite, save a brief time in 2022 when Casey Hayward was healthy.
The talent is there on both sides. Now it's about getting both guys going (and available) at the same time.
"The thing is that AJ did a great job in his second year going and being an All-Pro," said Jerry Gray, assistant head coach – defense. "Now, we have to get Jeff to do the same thing that he did when he was at Ohio State. You have two competitors, and you know they can compete because you wouldn't get drafted in the first round. You have great skills, otherwise you wouldn't get drafted in the first round. Now, we have to blend those two guys together."
"And let those guys see that when you have two great players on opposite sides, now they can't just target one guy. That's what we're trying to do, get them to understand if you've got good football players on this team and learn to compete at a high level now when we go on Sunday the job isn't going to be easier, but you have a better chance of winning that game."
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