Camp Battles 2013: Cornerback
This is the only position on defense that likely will feature a position battle for a starting spot. While Asante Samuel is locked in at the left cornerback position, the right cornerback position is relatively wide open. The team dumped veterans Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson in the off-season, replacing them with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, their top two picks in 2013. Trufant is expected to win the job because of his higher draft status and the fact that he has NFL bloodlines (two older brothers already in the NFL). But Alford could give him a run for his money. Incumbent nickel corner Robert McClain also could be in the mix for the spot. Regardless, the Falcons won’t be afraid to start either Alford or McClain over Trufant if need be. This is indeed a spot where the best candidate will win the job.
But more than likely, it’s Trufant’s job to lose. He’ll likely man the right cornerback position, which he has throughout the off-season when he’s been available. Alford is considered Samuel’s top backup on the left side, a role he played primarily at Southeastern Louisiana. McClain should remain the team’s nickel guy and man the slot, a role he was surprisingly adept at last season. McClain was a player that was one of the last players to make the team, but was able to turn it into an excellent season once Grimes went down with an Achilles tear. The Falcons hope he can pick up where he left off last season.
His emergence has pushed Dominique Franks to the fringe, and now he’s on the roster bubble. Franks showed potential in 2011 as a nickel corner, but struggled for reps a year ago even after the injury to Grimes. Franks’ ability to make the team is limited by the fact that his value on special teams is minimal. Franks’ struggles as a punt returner are well-documented, but also hurting his case is the fact that he has made almost no contributions in coverage in three seasons. McClain’s ability to contribute there was a key reason why he was able to pass him on the depth chart last summer and during the regular season. Franks’ best hope of making the roster then rests on his ability to be a regular contributor on defense. The presence of two rookie corners limits that, especially given the fact that Alford is also considered a prime candidate to win one of the return jobs, and his speed (potentially the fastest player on the defense) also projects well to finding a role on coverage units. Late last year the Falcons employed more dime looks in their subpackages, with Franks filling a role there. That potentially remains his best odds of making the roster, although again he’ll have to outplay Alford who also would be a candidate for that role.
Special teams ability is likely what will earn potential roster spots for the remainder of the position group. Peyton Thompson spent last year on the team’s practice squad and could propel that into a roster spot this year as the fifth corner. Terrence Johnson is also in the mix due to his experience playing in the nickel for the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. Saeed Lee is an undrafted rookie that was able to earn a contract after being brought in for a tryout. All three have a legit chance to earn the fifth and likely final cornerback spot due to special teams being the primary motivator for that spot. But if any of them emerge as capable defenders it will certainly be a significant factor in who makes the team. That’s why Thompson and Johnson are the likeliest candidates, given their experience over Lee.