Robenson Therezie had to do a lot of things right to go from an undrafted free agent to a member of Atlanta's 53-man roster. First off, he had to learn the ins and outs of a new, pro-style playbook. Then he had to secure the coaches' trust by exhibiting sound fundamentals and constant improvement. A young, somewhat raw commodity, he had to prove his worth on special teams, as well.
And most importantly, he had to take advantage of the chances granted to him during preseason. Therezie did just that when he intercepted Zach Mettenberger during Atlanta's first exhibition game in August. According to the 24-year-old, that play is a big reason why he made the club.
Appropriately, his first regular season pick came against the same opponent and the same quarterback—only this time, the stakes were much higher: Therezie corralled a Mettenberger pass with less than two minutes left in regulation Sunday, all but ensuring the Falcons would leave Nashville with a 10-7 victory.
"It's just what we talk about in practice," the rookie free safety explained. "It's just regular to me. Just have to act like I've been there before. Finishing, that's what we've been talking about. I was just sticking to the quarterback; we had a zone pressure going on. I know he had to get it out real quick, but I just read the quarterback, and I was right there."
Therezie's highlight garnered a lot of praise in the Atlanta dressing room. Fellow players chanted his name during postgame media availability; Robert Alford, whose locker stood adjacent to his, continued to applaud his teammate more than 20 minutes after the final whistle.
And though Matt Ryan didn't partake in the intimate celebration, he felt especially thankful for the young DB's heroics.
"I love when you see guys take advantage of an opportunity," Ryan said. "(Therezie's) a guy that came in and turned heads during offseason—during preseason, really … He came up with a huge play today and I'm really happy for him."
Once the swell of emotion subsided and Therezie had a moment to reflect, he was quick to credit Marquand Manuel for his rapid development. This wasn't the first time a Falcon has lauded his defensive backs coach: Alford believes the former NFL safety got him prepared for the pick-six against Washington; William Moore recently said good things about the energetic, hyper-focused instructor, too, and thinks the hands-on teaching has made an appreciable difference.
Manuel's success in Atlanta has, for the most part, stemmed from his ability to intertwine unique secondary expertise with Quinn's general ideologies: play fast, play physical, bring a championship mentality to work every day.
Certainly, his guidance has been well-received.
"(Manuel's) always on every small detail, man. Every, every detail," said Therezie. "Nothing's ever perfect—that's why he coaches hard, just to be at the spots. He's a great coach. Without him, we wouldn't be more disciplined than we are now."
The Atlanta Falcons are in Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Check out these photos of the game.
Another point Manuel and Quinn have preached is finishing, which the Falcons have done particularly well of late. In 2015 they've outscored opponents 67-47 in the fourth quarter and, following Week 7, have sealed half of their wins by snatching late interceptions.
"It's just our standard," Therezie said. "We'll play for 60, 70, 90 minutes. It doesn't matter; we're going to do the same thing, just finish strong. We're one of the best finishing teams in the NFL. It's what we do."
Therezie's INT says a lot about him, of course, and it says a lot about the Falcons' capacity to groom their projects. Quinn didn't hesitate to insert the inexperienced FS into a high-leverage, high-pressure situation at Nissan Stadium, and that confidence—built steadily throughout spring, summer and fall—proved invaluable.
"I think the main thing is we want to let the players know how much we trust in them and believe in them and it's our job to take them as far as they can possibly go," the head coach said. "And we certainly had that respect and we think (Therezie) has a terrific future ahead of him so it was a great play exactly when we needed it and we were excited for him."
"That means a lot," Therezie responded. "I go out there every day in practice, and it's like every day is a new day for me to earn a spot. Bad or good, once that day's gone, I start all over. I have to practice and play like that day is my last day here on earth. That's what Marquand Manuel preaches, and that's what we live by."