When Dunta Robinson was asked about the training camp battle between Dominque Franks and Chris Owens on Wednesday morning, he said he got chills thinking about how hard the two players are working to earn the nickelback corner position.
"That's the beauty of football: every day is a battle and both guys want to be out there on that football field," he said. "These guys are coming out here every single day. Yeah, we're friends, but those guys want this job. Both of those guys are fighting for that third corner spot."
It's similar to the competition he feels drives him and his starting corner-mate, Brent Grimes, to new levels. They love each other inside the walls of the facility but when the helmet comes on, it's about winning (or keeping) your job.
"You get along inside, but when you get outside, it's every man for himself," Robinson said. "I think they're both doing a tremendous job. Both of those guys are making plays and both of them are playing corner and nickel. That's extremely hard for a young guy to do, to come in and learn basically two positions. I think those guys are doing a lot of good things. Friday and these other preseason games and the way they continue to come out here and practice will ultimately be the deciding factor."
The hottest battle in camp is only going to make both of the young corners. Both of them were playing outside corner opposite Robinson before Grimes re-signed. Once Grimes returned their roles in practice shifted a little and the nickel slot heated up. The end result is only going to mean four guys on the roster who are battle tested.
"The competition is making them both better," Robinson said. "That's the sign of guys who really want to play. No one is going to lay down. It's going to b e the coaches decision on who is going to be and who is going to be out. Both of those guys can definitely help us win football games. We need that competition from everybody out here on the field, that's what we're out here for. But when you have a spot that's up for grabs you definitely need that competition from the guys that are fighting for it."
While there isn't much competition between Robinson and Grimes for starting jobs, they use the other to get better at their game. The 2010 free-agent addition said Wednesday morning that Grimes helped him from the start at a part of his game that he didn't rely much on while in Houston.
"You know when I came here, I wasn't really a back-pedaler," Robinson said. "I came from a man-coverage system where we played a lot of man press. So I would, at times, get frustrated. He was so good as a back-pedal guy that I would go ask him questions and I would watch him and pay attention to him on film. He's been very good at it and he's had a lot of success doing it. We both trade tips, whenever one guy is not sure about something we go and talk to each other."
The long offseason gave Robinson plenty of time to gain even more comfort with his back pedal. He missed a lot of time during training camp last year and is happy to be healthy and fully a part of every practice. He says he's been in Atlanta long enough now that the defense isn't something he's uncomfortable with.
In a lot of ways, the same could be said for Grimes, Owens and Franks, as well. There seems to be a level of trust the four corners have earned from the coaching staff. So much so that the possibility that the team carries four cornerbacks into camp is there.
"Like I said, all four of us can play football," he said. "All four of us can be starters. It's a competition for myself and Brent because we don't want to lose our jobs to those guys and they're that good. We're just coming out here fighting and focusing every day and just having fun. It's another year under our belt. Dom was a rookie last year and myself, I was coming in as a free agent. We're a lot more comfortable and I think that helps a lot."
Edwards Out:Head coach Mike Smith shared Wednesday that the Falcons' free-agent acquisition, Ray Edwards, will not be available for the game Friday night.
"Ray Edwards will not participate in the game," Smith said. "Ray had a procedure done during the lockout. He will be indoctrinated. We'll bring him along slowly. He's participated in practice; we're not going to work him this week in the game. We'll continue to have him work with his rehabilitation. He's starting to take some full speed snaps, but he's just not going this week."
Edwards missed Weeks 13 and 14 last season with what was described as a high ankle sprain. He returned for the final three weeks of the season and accumulated 8 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
A Different Game: This year's first preseason game will be a little different from years' past. Many believe the starters will play a little longer than normal because this will be the first chance they have to experience contact. The unusual offseason and beginning of training camp means many of the guidelines of the past are thrown out the window in terms of when and how starters play in the preseason.
Right tackle Tyson Clabo said he is preparing to play the whole game and while that's unlikely, he hasn't been told what the expectations are. He does, however, have his own expectations.
"This is a new situation, a new camp and a new schedule," Clabo said. "They haven't told us anything yet so I'm anticipating more than what we've had in the past."
Many of the players are taking a similar approach. They know they need the live-action work, but they also know there are 90 players on the roster who need reps, as well. Robinson sees the first game as an opportunity to truly knock the rust off.
"I know we need as many reps as we can get because it's a new season," he said. "Guys need to come out there and get in football shape and the only way to do it is by playing football. I'm not sure about the reps. We just need to go out there and focus and when they pull us, they pull us."
Coach Smith said objective No. 1 is to win the ballgame. Because of the lack of interaction between the coaches and the players during the offseason, they've not had a chance to see a lot of their players in action. They're hoping to see a lot of competition at a number of positions.
Smith wouldn't elaborate on how long starters would play, but did share that certain position groups, specifically the offensive line, would play together while other groups would experience a mix and match rotation.
The coach stressed that while he believes there are starters penciled in, Friday's game is still an opportunity for everyone to be evaluated.
"This is an evaluation game," he said. "This is the time that we build our roster and there are a lot of guys that are going to be competing so we're going to make sure that we can evaluate almost everybody on the roster. Everybody's going to get an opportunity to compete and show what they can do."