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Good Getting Better


Number 22 walked out to the practice field shortly before warmups on the first practice of OTAs for the Falcons this offseason and didn't make much of a scene.

Once the full-team action — offense versus defense — started, No. 22, also known as Asante Samuel, also known as one of the best corners in football and newcomer to Atlanta, was making scenes.

Samuel started talking and didn't stop. He called out to Atlanta's quarterback Matt Ryan, begging him to throw the ball his way. He asked the coaches to give him some work. When they obliged, he made them pay. Samuel ended the offseason's first OTA practice with two interceptions. He wanted action right away.

"I got some, didn't I?" he said after practice. "That's what you've got to do, put the bull's eye on your shoulder and step up to the table. That's how you get better. If you're talking (trash) and telling them they can't do this and do that, of course they're going to try. You've just got to back it up. If you don't back it up, they're going to clown you."

He brings a swagger to Atlanta's defense that has been missing. It's the kind of swagger general manager Thomas Dimitroff talks about often. His teammates have noticed it immediately.

"You saw today, that's what Asante brings," Dunta Robinson said. "Of the players that are still playing in this league, he's probably top three in interceptions. He's a playmaker... He brings a different flavor and he makes our defense better. We're looking forward to it."

While Ryan doesn't have to worry about getting picked off by Samuel anymore, he's also looking forward to going up against one of the game's best. One of Samuel's two picks on Tuesday came from the hand of Ryan.

"Asante, I thought, has done about the same thing he's done to me for four years," Ryan said after practice. "He got one interception today. He made a good pick. He's going to make us better. Specifically I think he's going to make myself and our wide receivers better."

Samuel didn't waste any time getting to know his teammates. He said he's felt very welcome and he thinks his new teammates love his energy and confidence. Two of his teammates, Robinson and Brent Grimes, are hoping to make a cornerback trio that is deadly in a pass-happy league.

The trio of corners means some roles will be shifting. Early indications are that Robinson will move inside to defend the slot receiver in nickel packages and Samuel and Grimes will man the outside of the field. Samuel is traditionally a left cornerback, but got snaps at both locations on Tuesday. He said it'll work itself out and isn't spending any time worrying about it, but if anyone's interested, he prefers one over the other.

"Yeah, you know I have a preference," he said. "I'm a left corner, but I'll do anything to help my team. That's the quarterback's favorite spot since it's mostly a right-handed league. I want to be where the ball is coming."

On the other hand, Samuel knows the variety that Atlanta has at cornerback is a nice option. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan runs a pressure-intensive system that relies on changing things up to confuse the quarterback. Samuel said he recognized that in Nolan's scheme right away and the Falcons defense won't be running just one coverage.

The response from Samuel's teammates has been nearly unanimous. Early on, they seem to love having him around. After his first pick at practice, a takeaway in very tight coverage, he ran around with enthusiasm. Never one to lack enthusiasm himself, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon greeted him with a high-five. Veterans love him and the younger guys learn from him.

"Him coming is a great addition," third-year cornerback Dominique Franks said. "The way he practiced today, the way he talks, he keeps everybody on edge. It's a competition on every play. It's a good thing to have."

The competition isn't just at cornerback. As Ryan said, Samuel's presence on the field will make the receivers better as well. In the end, that's really Samuel's goal: to make everybody better.

"Julio, Roddy White, those guys are great competitors," Samuel said. "Just working with each other today, I'm giving them tips and they are giving me tips. Those guys are beasts, freak of nature type guys. Expect big things. Expect everybody to get better over here. Expect everybody to be better. That's what good people do, good players make everybody better around them."

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