Last spring, Akeem King entered OTAs with the same goal of every rookie drafted in the seventh round: earn a job. He accomplished that—first on the practice squad, then on the active roster—and after spending a year learning from Atlanta's robust coaching staff, the San Jose State product has set new, ambitious expectations for himself.
"I'm going to come out and start—nothing less," King said Tuesday. "Just trying to be the best. That's the mentality."
The thought of King starting, or at least being a significant contributor off the bench, isn't far-fetched at this point. His transition from safety to cornerback is completed. He's grown confident in his understanding of the playbook. And, thanks to the extra work he did as a member of Dan Quinn's "Plan D" program, he's developed some crucial skills—namely lateral quickness and deep coverage.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," he said. "I was kind of new to the position last year, so having a whole offseason to get to watch film and get better at corner really helped me a lot."
In addition to fine-tuning his technique, Atlanta's coaches have asked King to approach 2016 with more intensity. Giving 100 percent three out of four times won't cut it, Quinn explained—especially when you play for an organization that values competition as much as the Falcons.
"That was the thing we challenged with Akeem during the offseason, the urgency to play and finish," Quinn said. "Playing outside, and playing in this league where you go against some top guys, you have to keep at it every single play. That's a hard mindset for a corner, one we've asked him to work on a bunch."
Though OTAs don't include pads or tackling, King has displayed that urgency over the past couple of weeks. If he continues to do so, and if he shows he can handle the NFL's best wide receivers, he should be an important part of the defense in 2016.
"I'm a whole new player," said King. "I feel like the coaches have seen the improvement. I've been out here making plays that I didn't make last year. I'm breaking up passes I didn't break up last year; I've been better and guarding receivers altogether. I'm just on top of the route a lot better. I think the coaches have been impressed with what I've done so far."