Even though he missed much of OTAs while finishing up his degree at the University of Washington, Falcons first-round pick Desmond Trufant hasn't wasted much time getting on the field and competing. Along with second-round rookie corner Robert Alford, the two are impressing early on.
In the first day of minicamp, both corners broke up passes and did so defending Atlanta's top receivers. The coaching staff rotated players all over the roster, mixing starters with up-and-comers and potential starters throughout, but when the two cornerbacks had chances against the top WRs, they performed well. Roddy White and Julio Jones are two of the best in the league and Falcons head coach Mike Smith thinks practicing daily against those two will help Trufant and Alford more than nearly any other experience in their rookie seasons.
"They're going to be getting their training under fire because they're going to be playing against a group of wide receivers that I think are as good as any when you start talking about Julio Jones and Roddy White," Smith said on Tuesday.
Earlier in the offseason, Smith said both rookies have stood out to him when he's gotten to see them. Although Trufant was late joining the offseason activities, Alford has been with the team all along and both demonstrate the kind of cover corner capabilities that influenced the Falcons into drafting both of them with their top two picks.
"You see their skill set and their ability to play man coverage and that's one of the skillsets that we thought they had," Smith said earlier in June.
The head coach said both rookies would have every opportunity to play and early indications are a competition could be brewing between the two as they vie for a spot in the top three cornerback positions along with Asante Samuel and Robert McClain. Smith likes the fire he's seeing out of both young players just a few months into the beginning of their NFL careers.
"I found out very quickly that those two young men are very competitive and when you've got that competitive drive I think it bodes well for you having success in the NFL," Smith said.
On Tuesday, while covering White on a deep pass, Trufant tracked the receiver into the air and broke up the completion. He fell to the ground and his excitement and that of his defensive teammates was evident. Later in the afternoon practice, Alford took his turn against White and came away with one of the few interceptions of the day. Defending White, Alford followed a pass that bounced off of White's hands and the rookie secured it.
It's still early in the process but the early returns on both of Atlanta's top picks looks positive. Jones thinks they're coming around and the experience of playing against so many strong players on Atlanta's offense will only help them. He jokingly said they were "trying", but then added what every competitor wants to hear: they come to play every single day.
"They don't give up," Jones said. "They give effort. They've got heart and that's one thing you can't teach."