Are the Atlanta Falcons Cornerbacks the Strength of the Defense?

Very Young, but a Lot of Talent

Will the CB Be Smiling this Year? (AJC)

Falcons training camp is officially underway and the dead zone clouds are gone for good. Most of the roster is set with stability and a veteran presence, but there are a few areas that are giving fans concern as the 2013 season approaches. Cornerback is definitely an interesting position to keep an eye on. Dimitroff significantly upgraded the CB corps in the draft after he moved up to take Desmond Trufant in the 1st round and followed it up by taking Robert Alford in the second round.

In addition to keeping veteran Asante Samuel and the surprise of 2012 Robert McClain, the Falcons finally have a good amount of young athleticism and talent. The big question is whether or not Dimitroff’s apparent philosophy to build from the outside-in will actually work. How good do the cornerbacks have to be when their is a major sense of panic that the pass rush will not get it done? A look at the Falcons cornerback corps heading into 2013:

PFF = ProFootballFocus Statistics (subscription required)

How Much Does Samuel have Left?

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2012 PFF Stats: -0.9 overall grade (67 out of 113 CBs); +5.3 coverage grade (27th out of 113); -7.7 in run defense (dead last, 113th out of 113 CBs); 8th out of 113 vs. QB Rating; 53.2% receptions caught (23rd out of 113)

Can McClain Repeat Excellence? (AJC)

The former All-Pro cornerback had a tale of two stats in 2012. He was one of the best cornerbacks in the league in pass coverage. Besides Robert McClain in the nickel, Samuel was the best cover corner the Falcons had. Bringing him in was definitely a needed a jolt to the Falcons past coverage woes. However, he not only was lackluster in defending the run, he was actually dead last out of all 113 cornerbacks in the NFL. He generally had a pretty good overall year, at least in terms of actual coverage.

He brought a much needed tone of leadership and Super Bowl experience to the secondary. The issue is, though, how much does he have left in the tank? He is currently 32 and will be turning 33 in early January. He was as tough as nails the way he fought against his nagging injuries (his refusing to come out when his shoulder was dislocated was epic). Perhaps that was one reason that Dimitroff went with not one but two CBs, considering that this might be Samuel’s last year as a Falcon.

Will Robert McClain Repeat Excellence in 2013?

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2012 PFF Stats: +10.6 overall grade (12 out of 113 CBs); +9.7 coverage grade (10th out of 113); -1.6 in run defense (88th out of 113); 70.2% QB Rating (20th out of 113); 64.2% receptions (75th out of 113)

McClain was the major pleasant surprise of 2013. He had bounced around the NFL as a practice squad player before beating out former 5th round pick Dominique Franks a move that surprised many fans. McClain was thrust into action very early on after Brent Grimes was lost for the season in the very first game of the season. McClain surely didn’t disappoint and took full advantage of his opportunity.

Could Alford Join McClain as a Starter? (AJC)

The former UConn product not only did well, he was one of the best overall corners in the NFL according to ProFootballFocus. In fact, he was ranked 12th overall and 10th in pass coverage out of all 113 cornerbacks in the league. He was easily the Falcons best overall, at least according to PFF. Some of that may be due to his position of nickel and seeing a good bit less snaps than either Samuel or Dunta Robinson. However, he has to be considered a regular starter since he was on the field more than MLB Akeem Dent.

Even though there looks to be great competition from Trufant and Alford, its hard to believe McClain won’t be manning the nickel again in 2013. The question remains about whether he can repeat his success with a rookie on one side and an aging vet on the other.

Are Trufant and Alford in for Rough Rookie Years?

Any rookie starting for the first time will always see some rough patches at some point or another. But cornerback has to be one of the absolute toughest positions overall in the NFL, especially for a rookie. The new young and athletic CB tandem, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, are likely competing for the same CB starting position left vacant by the departed Dunta Robinson. Early reports from training camp uhave seen both rookie CBs, especially Trufant, having a pretty rocky start. That’s to be expected when you’re going up against two of the best receivers in the NFL, Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Even though it’s a lite understandable that the two CBs are taking their lumps vs. two All-Pro receivers, it does portend what is likely to come in 2013. The Falcons face a slew of excellent passing QB’s in Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Bees twice, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick, among others. You can bet those QBs and offensive coordinators will be picking on those young guys early and often. How well they adapt to the NFL level may ultimately determine the Falcons success in 2013.

5th Spot Up for Grabs

Barring a major shock, it seems as though the first 4 spots are pretty well locked up with Samuel, McClain, Trufant, and Alford. The fifth and final spot, however, is as wide open as they come. The battle seems to be between 4 players: Dominique Franks, Peyton Thompson, Terrence Johnson, and Saeed Lee. Even though the player may not see the field a ton save for special teams, look no further than McClain in 2012 to know a potential gem may be in the ranks.

Alford and Trufant: Young with Talent (AJC)

Standard logic would hold that Franks should be the lead candidate to win the job since he’s been on the roster one way or another since he was drafted in the 5th round in 2010. After showing some initial promise and hope that he would develop into a solid CB in the Falcons rotation, he actually lost his roster spot to McClain and even cleared waivers from all the other teams. After Tim Toone and made the team and was injured combined with Brent Grimes injury, the Falcons brought back Franks for his 3rd time. His 2012 tenure was rocky and saw him as the last option in the cornerback rotation. When he was on the field, he joined Chris Owens as having an overall negative grade and poor coverage production. From a pure experience perspective, Franks will have a leg up. But since he was technically on the outside looking in last year at this time, that wouldn’t seem to be much of an advantage.

Peyton Thompson and Terrence Johnson

Many fans favorite to win the last spot is last year’s undrafted free agent Peyton Thompson. He reminds some fans of Brent Grimes: a smaller type of corner who is extremely athletic and had very good statistics at San Jose State. He spent a year on the practice squad and is primed to follow in the footsteps of Robert McClain, grabbing a hold an opportunity and never looking back. He certainly would continue the trend of developing an extremely young and talented secondary.

Check out the Cage Podcast

Thompson may no longer be a dark-horse candidate since so many fans are aware of him and pulling for him. The new dark-horse player might actually be Terrence Johnson. The former California Bear went undrafted in 2010 and went without a team after being cut by the Patriots. He hung around and caught on with the Colts in 2011. He actually played in 10 games for them and even started twice that year. The CB has drawn early praise in camp and may be well in the game to take the final spot.

The Falcons Cage Podcast

(Just click on the link and you can either listen to the live or download them to your favorite device for later: i-pad, i-phone, i-tunes, android)

Episode #1 – Linebackers – 7/10

Episode #2 – Defensive Tackle – 7/14

Episode #3 – 2013 Draft – 7/21

Episode #4 – Training Camp Preview – 7/24

Episode #5 – Cage Members Questions Answered – 7/28

The Cage’s “Corner”

  1. Is the CB corps the strength of the defense
  2. What’s your projected depth chart for the CBs
  3. Does Samuel have enough left for another year
  4. Happy with release of Robinson, Grimes, and Owens
  5. OK or still miffed at back-to-back draft picks Trufant and Alford
  6. Is there any chance that Alford beats out Trufant
  7. Who’s your preference at nickel
  8. Are you nervous about the youth at CB this season
  9. Who do you “want” to win the #5 spot and who “will” win it?

394 comments Add your comment

Birdman

July 30th, 2013
9:10 pm

SeminoleWarrior

July 30th, 2013
9:16 pm

The Tee-Pee speaks:

1. Is the CB corps the strength of the defense? No. While young and immensely talented, this corps can’t be considered a strength until we have some reasonable sense of what they are capable of doing against premier talent. Samuel is certainly a very solid veteran presence but due to age and the salary cap, his ATL days are now numbered. McClain was certainly a refreshing discovery in 2012 but one wonders what would we have known about him had not Brent Grimes been hurt? The new kids simply have not had enough experience at this level to warrant a grade at this time. This area and the right side of the offensive line will certainly be under a lot of close scrutiny this season.

2. What’s your projected depth chart for the CBs? Trufant, McClain, Alford, Samuel, and Thompson. Johnson will be retained on the practice squad as he will ascend to the active roster in a full time status next season.

3. Does Samuel have enough left for another year? As I stated earlier, 2013 will be the last year in the ATL for Samuel due to cap issues. The spring 2014 release of both Samuel and Nicholas provides an immediate $6.5 million in cap relief that could be invaluable both in the short and long term for the team. Youth is in play that would support the actions in that talent like Worrilow/Bartu as well as Thompson/Johnson should be ready to step in and make contributions.

4. Happy with release of Robinson, Grimes, and Owens? Robinson was overpaid and overrated when we signed him to a free agent deal in 2010. Better value was available in free agency. The market took Grimes out of the picture in ATL and Owens had every chance to win the job (both starter and the nickel). It was time to move on across the board.

5. OK or still miffed at back-to-back draft picks Trufant and Alford? I love the Alford pick; he represented great value at his pick and is a more complete CB in my opinion than Trufant. The Falcons made a mistake in moving up for Trufant. I know that the Pac 12 is a pass happy league but I really do not see much of a major difference between his skill set and that of most of the other “tiered” corners in the first two rounds of this past draft.

6. Is there any chance that Alford beats out Trufant? In the long term, I think that Alford will be the better CB but Trufant is the “face”of this draft class. This defensive infusion is critical in 2013 and Trufant is the “big”name. He wins the gig by default but make no mistake; Alford will be a force in very short order.

7. Who’s your preference at nickel? The release of Samuel as soon as possible at the end of the season, along with the release of Nicholas, will open the door for the deal that SHOULD keep McClain in ATL as the nickel or possibly as the starter in the absence of Samuel. I would prefer long term that McClain and Alford be the starters with Trufant at the nickel. But the 2013 season rolls with McClain as the nickel and it is critical we retain him in 2014.

8. Are you nervous about the youth at CB this season? Nervous but we have no choice. We have to travel this road. Enuf said. I hope that Tim Lewis coaches them up and that the “scheme” maximizes their upside.

9. Who do you “want” to win the #5 spot and who “will” win it? Thompson. In limited action, I have enjoyed what I have seen in this young man. As one who scouts the WAC/MWC extensively, I have a good feel for this young man. And no one mines the small school talent better than TD so I trust that Johnson’s upside will be on full display very soon….remember the way we were introduced to Brent Grimes.

Matty Bicep

July 30th, 2013
9:28 pm

One thing TD has proven over the past 4 years, and that is he can find DBs off the scrap heap. I would be surprised if Samuels makes it through the season. I like he look, but other than Samuels, we are thin there.

Matty Bicep

July 30th, 2013
9:28 pm

We are thin with experience.

JB Falcon

July 30th, 2013
9:29 pm

D3, when you put up the link to the podcast, how about putting up the date? I’ve caught ‘em all so far but it takes forever for that site to load. jmho.
I’ll pick Peyton for the 5th spot.

D3

July 30th, 2013
9:40 pm

JB — Got it. Just updated it.

NEED YOUR QUESTIONS!!!!!

Our 6th Episode of our Falcons Cage Podcast is tomorrow night. We would love for anyone to join us, but at a minimum we’d appreciate any questions you guys would like to hear discussed. We still have a quite a few questions we didn’t get to last time, but the more the better. And we’ll keep this format up as long as you guys have questions.

PoolerSpirit

July 30th, 2013
9:51 pm

From the previous blog…
D3: “Respectfully as possible, we may have started on his blog, but no assistance nor prompting was given by anyone to “create” this blog besides us. He’s always been extremely polite, but I [think] the misconception should be cleared up that anyone helped us get this blog.”

That, my friend, is why you’re our stick swizzler.

JB Falcon

July 30th, 2013
9:57 pm

PS, “stick swizzler.” ?

Birdman

July 30th, 2013
9:59 pm

1..They may not be the strength now but with the pass happy NFL Them and the safeties need to be a big part of it Hopefully by the last half of the season they will have some what of a hold on things and show us some good things

2.. What SW said sounds good to me.

3 I think Samuel will be alright this season but I also think its his last ride

4 YES !! Yes ! yes.I think Grimes will do ok where he is but to be honest I am not sad to see him and his wife gone

5 I am ok with it but I wish they had of went elsewhere as in DE in the first pick

6 I think that there is always a chance but again I agree with Seminole

7 Mclain sounds good

8 Yes but it is what it is and what we have could be great building blocks for years to come

9 I’ll leave that one with the rest of you cagers

falcon21

July 30th, 2013
10:05 pm

Question for the podcast. I have been screaming since 08 for Matt Ryan to have an O-Line good enough for him to actually scan the field without him being under so much pressure that he has to take a sack or just throw the ball away. Up to this point it has not happened. The O-Line may have been a little better last season but nothing to brag about. Do you guys think this years O-Line has the potential to do that?

Arno

July 30th, 2013
10:19 pm

Are you nervous about the youth at CB this season?

They will get picked on for sure. I’m not worried, though. When Grimes first went out there, QBs avoided Dunta and picked on Grimes, to say the least. That was some fast-track training for him– which he responded to quite well, surpassing Dunta. Our new guys will have the vet support through Samuels which will help them get over the hump.

falcon21

July 30th, 2013
10:35 pm

Matt Ryan threw for a ton of yards last season, just imagine what he could do with a better than fair O-Line. I know this has nothing to do with this article but I did comment to most of the questions earlier but the blog monster got me or I hit refresh and not submit commit. Done it before.

falcon21

July 30th, 2013
10:36 pm

SeminoleWarrior

July 30th, 2013
10:38 pm

F 21, a great question. Will hold off and hope that it comes up tomorrow. Laterz, bro.

SeminoleWarrior

July 30th, 2013
10:40 pm

Several great points made, Birdman.

Jimbo73

July 30th, 2013
10:52 pm

Kens Strickland

July 29th, 2013
8:49 pm
Ken, thanks for the link to the Steven Jackson article. I agree with the author and am excited to see the challenges of trying to defend this hydra offense. The article fails to mention the pass catching ability of Bradie Ewing (whom I heard missed practice today). I look forward to the 21 sets used by the 49ers when Rathman was catching all those balls from Montana circa 1989.
If we get ahead 3 scores this year, there will be no stopping us

SeminoleWarrior

July 30th, 2013
11:03 pm

Jimbo73

Nice analysis. And in the event that Ewing’s issues are something more intermittent, Snelling’s value rises as a backup FB.

Birdman

July 30th, 2013
11:20 pm

There is one big thing to keep in mind . Trufant & Alford are working out with two of the best receivers in the NFL . I would think it will help in there structure and growth

SeminoleWarrior

July 30th, 2013
11:30 pm

Birdman,

I agree. This year will be a learning experience for both Alford and Trufant but you nailed it.

The fact that they will have to deal with JJ11 and RW84 every day is the ultimate in “graduate school”.

Flo-Ri-Duh

July 31st, 2013
9:10 am

Glad to see the Falcons are considering the northern most site for their new stadium – not comfortable with dealing with tearing down of the historical churches for money any way. Bad karma.

The further north of downtown the better.

PoolerSpirit

July 31st, 2013
9:16 am

JB F… from the previous post…

Unca Bob said: D3. There are no words my friend. You are the swizzle to everyones stick. Thank you.

PoolerSpirit

July 31st, 2013
9:24 am

Duh… Couldn’t agree more with the “Bad Karma” from tearing down the historic churches…

Not gonna happen, but the southern or an eastern site would be my preference… get it a little closer to Pooler, we might be able to sell out an entire Poolock section!

JB Falcon

July 31st, 2013
11:01 am

I know that Banks is a favorite to make the team but I just read a piece by DOL that has some film of Joplo Bartu. The guy is a player for sure. Here’s a link if you care to watch it. You have to scroll down to see the film.
http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/atlanta-falcons/2013/jul/30/rookie-spotlight-linebacker-joplo-bartu/

Arno

July 31st, 2013
1:02 pm

JB– impressive film on Bartu. Vision, anticipation, toughness, looks like the fastest guy on the field. We’ll see how he does vs. the Bengals.

D3

July 31st, 2013
1:24 pm

Flo / JB / Pooler — Just want to clear something up regarding the stadium / church debate. Before I start I want you to understand that in no way am I trying to demean or disparage the churches. It is their property and they can do whatever they want with it…..period. However, to say that the churches refused to go along with the plan purely for religious and historical reasons isn’t the way the debate was framed. If they didn’t want to sell for those reasons than that’s perfectly fine. They should have come out and said “Our church is not for sale at any price because of it’s historical importance.” End of story. But that’s not what they did. After being offered up to 12,000% of what the church was worth (valued at $1 million, offered $10 – 12 million with a new church built nearby), they instead came back with a request over double what was offered ($23 – $25 million). And of course that’s their right. Maybe they simply wanted to “price them out” and keep their church anyway, but to say that they withheld purely for historical and religious reasons isn’t entirely accurate either. They were for sale, just for a crap load more money than was offered. Just want to make sure the debate was framed correctly, that’s all.

Arno

July 31st, 2013
1:47 pm

When a site is of historical significance, preferably all parties recognize it. Sadly, it if often up to one ‘side’ to defend the significance. Too bad Blank and the stadium authority didn’t recognize the historical importance of the location in the first place. Slapping up a historical marker and building the church in a new location, to my mind, is nothing but a theme park mentality.

JB Falcon

July 31st, 2013
1:50 pm

D3, my post about the stadium was a feeble attempt at sarcasm trying to say exactly what you just stated and I agree 100%. It seems as though religious and historical beliefs have a monetary value now. Can I get $100 worth of faith?

D3

July 31st, 2013
2:34 pm

Arno — Good point. But the churches were more than ready to also “play ball,” just as long as you triple your original value. I’m sure they’ve never made any money off parking since the Dome has been there either. Just saying that it’s a two way street when you enter into those type of negotiations. A better way to put is when they “entertain offers.” I would have had more respect for the churches if they simply would have said, “Not for Sale. End of Story!” But they’re trying to have it both ways, “can’t believe you would ask us to sell our church” and out of the other side of their mouths “well, OK, but only if you triple your original offer.”

Arno

July 31st, 2013
2:41 pm

I agree with you completely, D3. Only pointing out that a true culture of preservation, despite all the talk, hasn’t been all that evident from any party.

Birdman

July 31st, 2013
3:11 pm

D3

July 31st, 2013
3:12 pm

Arno — Very well put!

JB Falcon

July 31st, 2013
3:15 pm

falcon21

July 31st, 2013
4:15 pm

The Pro-Bowl was bad enough the way it was. They my as well play 2 hand touch.

D3

July 31st, 2013
4:19 pm

RE: Pro Bowl — The changes may be bad to purists, but the Pro Bowl had gotten so bad that I think this is fairly neat and interesting. It’s essentially a fantasy football draft. I kind of like it.

CED

July 31st, 2013
4:21 pm

Is the CB corps the strength of the defense? No, I believe they will be the weakest link this year on defense despite our pro bowl safties helping..
What’s your projected depth chart for the CBs ? I would like to see

Samuel, Trufant McClain, Alford

Does Samuel have enough left for another year ? Yeah I think he knows we are relying on him a whole lot and I think he’s up for the challenge …

Happy with release of Robinson, Grimes, and Owens ? Not all of them Robinson he was over paid and he really never made a play, Owens he had speed and saved us some games but he sucked at nickel … and I hated to see Grimes go we needed him bad…

OK or still miffed at back-to-back draft picks Trufant and Alford ?
Not really, we need Cb’s but I dont agree with moving up to get Trufant and I dont agree with passing over Mathieu a former heisman runner up …
Is there any chance that Alford beats out Trufant ? Yes is Trufant gets out there and gets burned every play and Alford comes in a balls out …

Who’s your preference at nickel ? Not sure McClain I guess but wouldn’t mind seeing the younger guys play that position.

Are you nervous about the youth at CB this season ? Very … I think TD is going about this cap space wrong …. actually I think he went about this whole off season wrong …. I dont mind the youth at Cb but you also have to know that you hurt your CB’s when you dont have great pass rushers…

Who do you “want” to win the #5 spot and who “will” win it? Thompson he sounds promising

Flo-Ri-Duh

July 31st, 2013
5:32 pm

D3 – You said what I wanted to say about the church negotiators …….. basically it is GREED. I think that’s a sin? They are just seeing how bad these “fools” want the site. don’t be surprised if they have a change of heart for say about 10% -15% more than has been offered to them.

Flo-Ri-Duh

July 31st, 2013
5:37 pm

I have 330 acres of timber land with a nice creek surrounding about half of it approximately 2 miles from Hawkinsville (60 miles south of Macon). I will GIVE Mr. Blank 100 acres if he will build his stadium there.

Matty Bicep

July 31st, 2013
6:10 pm

Does anything really think that if the Church cuts a deal, that Art will pass the savings back to us in tickets, seat licenses and merchandise sales? It will get done, it’s change is the couch cushions at the Blank house.

JB Falcon

July 31st, 2013
6:37 pm

What time is the podcast and where’s the link?

SeminoleWarrior

July 31st, 2013
6:38 pm

JJ

July 31st, 2013
6:39 pm

eLVIS

ELVIS,NOW!!!

CALL IN, SCROLL BACK FOR NUMBER!

JJ

July 31st, 2013
6:40 pm

wed 6:30

sun 6:30

never changes

JB Falcon

July 31st, 2013
6:49 pm

Thanks guys, I’m listening.

JJ

July 31st, 2013
6:51 pm

We are talking live RIGHT NOW on the podcast, call in and partake…scroll back for number…its on my phone but im on line in podcast…cannot pull up numbers…

SeminoleWarrior

July 31st, 2013
6:52 pm

The number is (347) 215-9703.

JJ

July 31st, 2013
6:56 pm

CALL NOW AND GET ON PODCAST LIVE…!!!

Sportaree

July 31st, 2013
6:56 pm

Flo-Ri-Duh,

Hey, now that’s a great idea. We live about 35 miles west of you in south Macon Co.

JB Falcon

July 31st, 2013
7:02 pm

Wha’ happened? I guess they got cut off after 30 mins.?

JJ

July 31st, 2013
7:04 pm

JB, WE ARE STILL LIVE!

Jimbo73

July 31st, 2013
7:10 pm

Birdman, GREAT article on Matt Ryan’s 1st five seasons compared to other QBs during the same period. His is in some high cotton. I see rings in our future! ! !