This is the third of a 10-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster after their offseason program.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes that starting cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will have something to prove when they report for training camp on July 26.
Both have been starting cornerbacks since being drafted back in 2013, but only have one Pro Bowl season between them. Trufant was selected after the 2015 season.
The Falcons want both of them to make more plays on the ball. Alford led the team with 20 pass breakups, but had just one interception. Trufant had 12 pass breakups and just two interceptions.
Trufant allowed 35 receptions on 61 passes targeted to receivers he was covering last season. The 35 receptions were the eighth lowest among cornerbacks who played 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, according to profootballfocus.com.
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Trufant has had 60 pass breakups over his career, but only nine interceptions over 72 regular-season games. The Falcons want to turn some of those breakups into interceptions.
Alford has had 72 pass breakups and just 10 career interceptions.
Brian Poole will have to beat out Damontae Kazee at nickel back. The Falcons also drafted Isaiah Oliver in the second round of the draft.
Every since Quinn was hired and given final say on the 53-man roster, he’s been looking for a big cornerback.
The Falcons selected Jalen Collins (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) in the second round of the 2015 draft. The Falcons spent two years trying to convert C.J. Goodwin (6-4, 220 pounds) into a cornerback. They are also in the middle of trying to convert former Kansas State wide receiver Deante Burton (6-2, 205) into a cornerback.
Collins appears to have washed out of the league. Goodwin got his shot last season, but failed. He’s now with the 49ers.
Burton, who caught 84 passes for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns at Kansas State, will get some action this exhibition season.
But the long-term answer may be Oliver, who was selected out of Colorado 58th overall in the 2018 draft.
The Falcons would like to put a big player out at right cornerback who can jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and throw of the timing of routes. Quinn used a big corner like the massive Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) when he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle.
Oliver would have to beat out Alford, who could slide inside and compete with Poole for the nickel spot.
“I’m sure I’ll be moving around throughout training camp, but through (the offseason) I was at right corner on the outside,” Oliver said. “That’s probably where I’ll be for the most part.”
Oliver has a reputation for playing the deep pass well. He recorded 32 pass breakups and tied for the 10th most in Colorado history.
He might not be ready to beat out Alford, but eventually he could play outside in a pinch like Collins had to late in 2016 and in Super Bowl XLI.
The defensive backs have welcomed him to the group.
“They are great guys and they are helping me out a lot in terms learning the defense and different techniques and things like that,” Oliver said. “How to play Falcons’ football.”
Oliver, who will likely start his career as a special teamer, knows he’ll have to earn a starting spot.
“So, from a competitive standpoint, we are always going to compete,” Oliver said. “That’s one of the biggest things on the team here, is that battle aspect. So, we are going to compete against each other. Compete against the offense and compete in everything that we do.
“So, that just kind of comes with it. Then the play of the field is just the play on the field.”
Oliver enjoyed going against the Falcons receivers in the rookie minicamp, during the organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp.
“It helped a lot,” Oliver said. “In my opinion, this is the best receiving corps in the NFL. So, being able to see that every day in practice, then you go out on Sunday and you know that you kind of have an edge over other teams. That’s going to be big for me, especially in my rookie year, going against guys like Mohamed Sanu and everyone here. That’s going to help me out when I go out there on Sundays and play against those guys.”
The Falcons are in nickel at least 70 percent of the time and if they can get Oliver ready to play that will add to their flexibility in the secondary.
“You are going to need (defensive backs) and (defensive back) depth because you’re not going to have guys make it all the way through the season,” defensive passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson said. “You can think that we have five guys, that’s our nickel group and we’re good. You better have some depth behind them, some good quality depth so that when guys go down you’ve got guys that can come up and play.”
The Falcons were pleased with the play of Blidi Wreh-Wilson last season.
“I think that was the Minnesota game and he had to start,” Henderson said. “He played well for us and we did not have a big drop off for us on defense. When you look at gosh, they’ve got a brand new starter out here, a guy who hadn’t started in probably a year in the NFL, he’s got to go in and play.
“He went in there and played his heart out. He played hard and played well. He gave us a chance to win that game. He battled.”
Part 1: Defensive Line
Part 2: Linebackers
Coming Thursday: Safeties
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 18, Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Reggie Davis, 86 Lamar Jordan, 16 Taj Williams
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 68 Austin Pasztor, 76 Daniel Brunskill
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow, 75 Jamil Douglas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 J.C. Hassenauer
RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 62 Salesi Uhatafe
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 77 Matt Gono
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 89 Alex Gray, 80 Troy Mangen, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 17 Marvin Hall, 83 Russell Gage, 15 Christian Blake, 19 Dontez Byrd, 7 Devin Gray
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 9 Grayson Garrett, 6 Kurt Benkert
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 41 Terrence Magee, 32 Justin Crawford, 35 Malik Williams
FB 40 Daniel Marx, 43 Luke McNitt, 30 Ricky Ortiz
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 96 Mackendy Cheridor
DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Garrison Smith,
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 92 Justin Zimmer, 99 Jon Cunningham
DE 44 Vic Beasley, 90 Derrick Shelby, 55 J’Terius Jones
WLB 42 Duke Riley, 54 Foyesade Oluokun
MLB 45 Deion Jones, 52 Emmanuel Ellerbe, 53 Emmanuel Smith
SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 56 Anthony Winbush, 49 Richard Jarvis
CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 28 Justin Bethel, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 39 Deante Burton
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden, 43 Chris Lammons
NB 34 Brian Poole, 27 Damontae Kazee, 42 Tyson Graham, 30 Joseph Putu
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 38 Marcelis Branch, 41 Jason Hall
SS 22 Keanu Neal, Ron Parker, 35 Secdrick Cooper
K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 David Marvin
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall, 30 Ito Smith
PR 14 Justin Hardy, 16 Reggie Davis
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher