FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons rated Christopher Owens as their fourth cornerback when they cut down to 53-man roster.
With Brent Grimes going down for the season, Owens, who’s had a bumpy start to his career, is the so-called “next man up” and will get an opportunity to reclaim his starting position.
While Dunta Robinson appears set to move back out to right cornerback after Grimes started there against Kansas City, Owens could be headed back inside in the nickel defense.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing in the NFL for Owens, who was drafted in the third round (90th overall) of the 2009 draft out of San Jose State.
He had a promising rookie season as he started six games and played in all 16 games. He finished with 21 tackles and two interceptions.
In 2010, Owens had an up-and-down campaign. He was the team’s top nickel back before being slowed by a back injury.
He returned to the lineup after Brian Williams suffered a knee injury. He struggled mightily against Green Bay in the divisional playoff game.
Last season, Owens played primarily on special teams as Dominique Franks and Kelvin Hayden split the nickel back duties.
He moved back ahead of Franks during training camp and could be ready to fulfill the promise that he showed early in his career.
“There are going to be bumps in the road, anytime that you go on a journey,” Owens said at his locker on Tuesday. “You just have to fight through it. Any journey worth anything, you’re going to have some challenges.”
Owens, a native of Compton, Calif., believes he’s been through the toughest part of this trek. He somehow has managed to keep a positive outlook.
“Every time I step on the field, I’m looking for that light whether if it’s special teams or as a gunner running down on coverage,” Owens said. “It’s always an opportunity to show what you’re about and what kind of player that you are.”
While in an reserve role, Owens continued to practice like he was going to play. He is hoping that approach will play off this time around.
“I’ve played outside,” Owens said. “I’ve played left corner. I played right corner. I’ve played inside in the nickel. It’s just about staying grounded and doing the little things.”
Owens is the prototypical nickel. He’s physical, tough and can change directions quickly. He continues to show off his speed on special teams, when he ran down two returners to keep touchdowns off the board last season.
“Chris is a very resilient guy,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He’s going to get an opportunity to be back in it in a different role this week than what he played last week.”
The Falcons signed Terrence Johnson, who played some nickel back last season for Indianapolis. Also, Robert McClain, who played previously with Carolina and Jacksonville, and Dominique Franks have played some nickel back experience.
McClain finished ahead of Franks as the fifth corner in the final cut down. Franks, who played in 11 games and started four games last season, was re-signed after wide receiver Tim Toone suffered a hamstring injury.
“Robert showed what he’s capable of doing in the preseason,” Smith said. “He won a roster spot by the way that he performed.”
McClain can play both inside and outside. He played in 16 games and made two starts for Carolina after being drafted in the seventhround of the 2010 draft.
“Any time you have a chance to get on the game field, you have to take advantage of it,” McClain said. “Injuries happen on every team and you have to be ready to step in.”
Franks returned the lone punt in the 40-24 victory over Kansas City.
“He’s going to get another opportunity to compete as well,” Smith said. “Dom has started games in the NFL both as an outside corner and as an inside corner.”
Franks seemed to take the injury to Grimes the hardest.
“Grimey going down really hurt me,” Franks said. “He’s really a mentor and big brother and not just a teammate. He’s been through a lot. He took the long route to become one of the good corners in the league. I tried to soak up as much information as I could from that guy.”
WR 11 Julio Jones 83 Harry Douglas
LT 72 Sam Baker 76 Lamar Holmes
LG 63 Justin Blalock 68 Philipkeith Manley
C 62 Todd McClure 61 Joe Hawley 66 Peter Konz
RG 75 Garrett Reynolds 66 Peter Konz 79 Mike Johnson
RT 77 Tyson Clabo 79 Mike Johnson 76 Lamar Holmes
TE 88 Tony Gonzalez 81 Michael Palmer 87 Tommy Gallarda
WR 84 Roddy White 15 Kevin Cone
QB 2 Matt Ryan 12 Luke McCown 4 Dominique Davis
RB 33 Michael Turner 44 Jason Snelling 32 Jacquizz Rodgers 35 Antone Smith
FB 45 Lousaka Polite
RE 55 John Abraham 90 Lawrence Sidbury 98 Cliff Matthews
DT 94 Peria Jerry 99 Vance Walker
DT 95 Jonathan Babineaux 92 Travian Robertson
LE 93 Ray Edwards 71 Kroy Biermann 96 Jonathan Massaquoi
OLB 56 Sean Weatherspoon 51 Robert James
MLB 52 Akeem Dent 53 Mike Peterson
OLB 54 Stephen Nicholas 53 Mike Peterson
CB 23 Dunta Robinson 21 Chris Owens Terrence Johnson
CB 22 Asante Samuel 27 Robert McClain 29 Dominique Franks
S 25 William Moore 24 Chris Hope
S 28 Thomas DeCoud 26 Charles Mitchell
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 32 Jacquizz Rodgers
PR 83 Harry Douglas 29 Dominique Franks
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
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