On Friday, rookie cornerback Peyton Thompson had a moment in practice. He knocked one ball away and then he did it again. The defensive backs for the Falcons roll together and when one of them makes play, they all celebrate as if it came from their own hands.
Asante Samuel wouldn't let Thompson just make the play and move on to the next. The newest member of a the veteran defensive backs club is arguably the loudest player on the team and he told Thompson to get "cocky" and encouraged him to strike the pose, a swaggeriffic, cross-armed lean not unlike what Samuel introduced to the Falcons during the offseason.
Samuel has helped transform the Falcons cornerbacks into a group with confidence and athletic arrogance and they're playing like it. The reach of that influence stretches into the rookies and the younger corners, some of which joined the team as college free agents.
"He's a character," Thompson said of Samuel. "He's a different type of guy. Those are the type of things that you need. He'll show you a different side of yourself. He'll teach you new things in watching the way he works, acts and the mindset that he has going into practice. He's not lackadaisical. He's at work, but he's loose. Those are the things you've got to learn and pick up without them telling you."
Many of the vets take a few players under their wing. Thompson said he's had the fortune of getting guidance from Samuel, safety Thomas DeCoud and fellow corner Chris Owens. Ironically, Owens has been a close mentor to Thompson for a number of years. When Owens was a senior at San Jose State, he was assigned as a big brother to the freshman Thompson. Back together again, Owens continues his mentorship of the rookie.
Veterans like Samuel and Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson have seen a lot in the NFL as corners. Their experiences working with a variety of defensive coordinators and their combined 22 years of experience is paying dividends in helping the younger corners on the roster get up to speed. They're able to echo the messages of the coaches with their words and their play on the field.
"The coaches try to get the rookies out here to play how they want with the details," Thompson said. "The vets share their knowledge with us. They've said to loosen up and just play. If you pay too much attention you're not going to be playing full speed. They always say knowledge equals confidence which equals playing fast. They say you have the knowledge, just get your confidence and play like you played in college and you'll be successful."