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Playing big


*Brent Grimes has heard it all before. 'You can't. You're too small.' Good thing Grimes never believed what others said about him. An overwhelming belief in himself, his abilities and his fate drove him on a path full of unconventional twists and turns to a life full of potential as one of the brightest up-and-coming talents in the entire NFL that most don't know about. Yet.


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Brent Grimes will never be accused of being the tallest player on the Falcons' roster. He knows he'll never earn the distinction of biggest player in the locker room, either.

None of that matters to him anyway.

When he's away from the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch, running errands in public, not many people he comes across believe he plays professional football.

That doesn't matter, either.

"You hear people say, 'See, if he can play then I can play,' " Grimes said. "I'm not really an imposing person, but you just go out there and play. I hear it a lot. I've been hearing it my whole life."

Inside the Falcons' locker room, he's starting to hear something different. During a taping of Falcons Live: The Coach Smith Show on Monday night, Calvin Ridley said Grimes was the most athletic person he has ever seen in his life.

That's a high compliment from anyone who spends a vast amount of time around other athletes. But that's the distinction Grimes has earned around his Falcons teammates.

They don't see him as small or unimposing. They see him as the most athletic among them.

"Oh, yeah. Definitely, just in terms of his stature — he's not a tall guy, but he can jump with the tallest guys in the world," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "He can run on anyone, he can cut on a dime, make a move on a dime, so it's rare when you see a guy who has all the tangibles.

"Some guys are fast, but aren't really quick. Some guys are quick, but aren't really fast. But he's fast, quick, agile, he can jump, he can run — everything. I can honestly say myself, he's one of the best athletes I've ever played with."

The journey to that point for Grimes hasn't been easy. He's never been a physical standout in terms of stature, which often got him overlooked.

At Northeast High School in Philadelphia, Grimes starred as a running back and a defensive back, and always harbored dreams of one day making it to the NFL.

The prospects of that happening, despite his impressive career at the high school level, were slim. The all-too-familiar refrain of, "You can't," and, "You're too small," continued to be sung as reasons for why Grimes would be wise to move past the idea of making a career out of football. Grimes didn't listen to that.

"It's just a belief in himself, that never-die, never-quit attitude," fellow cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "He had a dream and he wasn't going to let anybody tell him, 'Hey, you can't do this because you're too small or you can't do this for this reason or that for that reason.' It just shows the character in him as a man. He loves playing football and nothing was going to stop him from accomplishing that dream."

A couple of colleges, including Penn, took a look at Grimes, but he ultimately decided on Shippensburg — a small Division II university located in the mid-South region of Pennsylvania — simply because it was the first place he visited and he didn't feel like visiting any other colleges because of how impressed he was with Shippensburg.

The decision proved to be the right one. Grimes played in 43 games for the Red Raiders and left holding school and conference records for passes defended and interceptions.

"I feel as though I could've played at another level, but you are who you are," Grimes said. "I went there for a reason, I guess. I went to a D-II school and made plays and it worked out for me. I feel as though I could've played somewhere else. I could've played at a bigger school, but I was at a D-II school and I made what I had."

Grimes would have to continue making the best of what he had. In 2007, Grimes still held out the hope that he would somehow make it to the NFL. With the draft coming up, Grimes knew his chances were slim of being selected.

Like listening to a broken record, Grimes heard the same thing from scouts that he heard from everyone else to that point.

You can't.

You're too small.

You're from a small school.

His believe in himself, however, would help to prove them all wrong.

"I'm not saying I walk around with this big chip on my shoulder," Grimes said, "but just know I can go out and know in myself that I can make plays."

The draft came and went without Grimes' name being called. It was just another detour on the way to his goals. The phone rang and the Falcons were on the other end. It was the chance Grimes had been waiting for as Atlanta signed him as an undrafted free agent.

But the road from there would be difficult and would include a stint on the practice squad and an assignment to the now-defunct NFL Europe.

It didn't take Grimes long to prove that he can be a highly dependable force on the defensive side of the ball. After sitting on the practice squad for much of the 2007 season, he made his NFL debut in a game against Arizona.

He led the team that day in tackles with 11.

"He has a lot of heart, a lot of perseverance," DeCoud said. "He never quits. He's a strong-willed person. He's going to go out there and compete every time he's out on the field. He's not going to slack off and give any sort of half effort. He's going to go out there and compete and make plays. He has a certain pride about himself that you have to have in order to play cornerback in this league."

Three seasons later, Grimes has had the chance to show that every single day. From one outstanding, eye-opening play to the next, Grimes is quickly becoming, as Robinson puts it, "one of the best corners, I think, in the NFL."

"For me, he's the best corner I've ever played beside," Robinson said. "My rookie year, I came in and played with Aaron Glenn, who was kind of on the downside of his career and he was still a great cornerback, but I've never played with another good corner where I was like, 'Wow, together we can come out here and do a lot of great things.' Brent's the first corner I've played with that I've felt that way."

Thing is, the rest of the NFL hasn't gotten that memo. Grimes hasn't garnered a whole lot of attention despite some of his amazing athletic plays.

Quarterbacks think they can pick on him because of his size. Wide receivers think they can have career days by underestimating him.

Grimes' teammates know better.

They don't think that will last much longer. They believe Grimes' name is on the verge of becoming synonymous with dominant cornerback play.

"In this league, if you're not a big-name guy, people may overlook you or may doubt your ability a little bit, but he has all the tools that every other million-dollar cornerback has in this league, maybe even more," DeCoud said. "It's just a matter of time before he is one of those big-name guys that you're going to hear about every Sunday Countdown or on Monday Night Football.

"You're going to hear his name."

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