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Franks turns heads early in camp


Flowery Branch, GA – There are stories about rookies stepping onto the practice field in NFL training camps and immediately succumbing to everything at stake.

There are butterflies in the stomach, shaking hands, and even an occasional loss of the proverbial lunch.

But one Falcons rookie has navigated the high-profile terrain with particular aplomb.

When General Manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Dominique Franks in the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft he thought he was getting a young cornerback who could step in and compete for the role of return man on special teams immediately.

But in the interview process there may have been a glimpse of the player who has stolen some of the spotlight early in training camp at one of the most heated and contested position battles in the preseason process.

For Franks, it all started with a vision the night before training camp began last Friday of what he could accomplish.

There were no burdens of expectations weighing down the former Oklahoma First-Team All-Big 12 honoree. But it wasn't because Franks was only the second junior drafted under the Dimitroff regime with the Falcons, a middle rounder at a deep position. Rather, it was because he approached his first day, and every day after it, with a veteran-like approach.

Do. My. Job.

"I'm really just focused on coming out here and playing," Franks said on the second day of training camp. "This is a job that you've got to perform every day so you can't take any days off or have your mind anywhere else except on football."

Franks wasn't worried about moving in, checking in with family or where he stood on the Falcons' depth chart. His belongings were neatly tucked away in his room in the barn, the area of the indoor practice facility where the franchise boards the rookies.

The 22-year old believes being secluded as he embarks on his NFL career - a career he believes will have many highs - is exactly what he needs to do.

"I think it's a good deal that we get to stay here at the facilities and don't have too many off-field worries with friends calling all the time," said Franks. "I think it's good, but you've got to come out here and focus every day."

Just as he planned, focus on football is exactly what he's done. Franks has turned heads through the first week of camp, intercepting passes and breaking up others. He's done his share of push-ups as well, a tradition with Falcons defensive backs when an interception falls from someone's hands.

Head Coach Mike Smith has definitely noticed the play of his young rookie and has liked what he's seen. His progress, according to the coach, has been exceptional.

"He's gotten his hands on a lot of balls," said Smith on Sunday. "I think he has come a long way in terms of understanding our scheme from the OTAs and the minicamp we had in May and June."

The 6', 197-pound corner knows the odds are still stacked against him with players like free-agent acquisition Dunta Robinson, veteran Brian Williams, and young emerging players like Chris Owens, Brent Grimes, and Chevis Jackson in front of him. A standout kick and punt returner in college, he believes there's an opportunity to impact the team in that way in his rookie season.

But like everything on the field of play, he knows he has to earn it. Giving the coaching staff the confidence to put him in a role that determines field position in such a huge way is critical. He's thankful to have the opportunity and just be in the mix.

"Whatever it takes for me to help this team win, I'm willing to do it," he said. "Just the thought that the coaches have the faith in me to not even take over the role, but be a backup to it, is great. It's just about going out there and performing and helping the coaches any way I can and give them the trust to put me out there on the field."

For now, Franks doesn't find any intimidation in sitting in a room with players who've found success in the league at his position. Every day he's taking advantage, to ensure that he'll someday be on that level as well.

"There are a lot of players in that meeting room that have been successful," said Franks. "I just go in every day when I have a question, I know I have a great coach that I can ask or I can the older DBs. It doesn't matter to me, it's not intimidating. It's a great learning curve for me. It makes me even better to have veteran guys like that around that have played the position, even the backups as well as the starters. It pays off for us younger guys coming in to feel more comfortable with the defense because we can ask more people."

Franks is also as selfless and grounded as he is prepared.

When asked about his personal learning curve, he ignores the question and speaks of the rookies as a whole. When given a chance to clarify if being a player for the Falcons is the culmination of a life-long dream, he almost shakes his head as he repeats that this is all just the beginning.

But don't mistake his humility with contentment.

Franks isn't waiting for his opportunity to fall into his lap. And he's already made it clear he's going to be difficult to ignore.

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