0

After earning roster spot in Atlanta, Irons still learning

ATLANTA - David Irons said he wasn't going to pick up when his cell phone rang. He already knew what brother Kenny would have to say.

After all, the siblings from Dacula had taken trash-talking to an art form well before they both reached the NFL.

"He'll be like, 'How'd you miss that tackle? A bird could have made it and he don't have no arms. Man, you're worse than a bird,'" David said.

The Atlanta Falcons not only whiffed on a big opportunity Sunday, but so did their rookie special teams member.

The Falcons lost 27-20 to the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome, falling to 0-3. Irons, a sixth-round draft choice from Auburn, just missed a chance to get the crowd buzzing early in the second quarter.

The Panthers had two players trying to jam Irons at the line of scrimmage, but he beat both of them and raced down the sideline on Michael Koenen's booming 55-yard punt.

Ryne Robinson caught the ball on the Carolina 18-yard line and Irons - running full speed - had the return man in his sights.

It was the kind off opportunity a gunner on the punt coverage team dreams about.

"Man, I thought I had him," Irons said.

Not quite, however.

A little too eager, Irons was just a tad off balance as he grabbed for Robinson's knees.

"I took my shot," Irons said. "He just slipped away."

Robinson gained nine yards before Michael Boley made the tackle.

"At least I slowed him down. That's your first assignment," Irons said.

After three NFL games, Irons still doesn't have credit for a tackle, but he's certainly won the attention of the Falcons and their opponents.

Irons is a standout on the punt and kickoff coverage teams, using his speed and aggressiveness to almost always be the first player downfield. The return man has to watch out, even if Irons isn't the one making the tackle.

After a strong training camp and preseason, Irons made the Falcons at the expense of veteran Allen Rossum, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I never really played much on special teams in college, so it's new," said Irons, who also excels as a jammer on the punt return team. "But I like it. And in the NFL, you have to pay your dues."

What he wants to be eventually, of course, is a starting cornerback.

Irons got in for a few plays in the fourth quarter against the Panthers after starting right corner Lewis Sanders suffered a possible concussion and backup Chris Houston was burned for a long completion.

"I was hoping they'd throw my way," Irons said. "I was ready. But they just ran the ball."

Irons normally plays the left corner, backing up DeAngelo Hall.

"I always played on the left in college, so it's an adjustment to play on the other side," Irons said. "But the more time I get there in practice, the more comfortable it will get. I just want to play."

Added the eager rookie: "The nerves are starting to go away. At first, you are just in awe to be in the NFL. You are so pumped up. But now I'm more calmed down. You learn something every game and feel a little more comfortable."

Irons had to overcome a lot to make it to the NFL. He started at a junior college and had to have two operations on the same knee before getting his chance at Auburn and turning in two strong seasons.

Younger brother Kenny, a running back, was more in the spotlight at Auburn and was drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals in April.

Now, Kenny is going through what David had to earlier. In his first preseason game, Kenny Irons tore his ACL and will miss his rookie season.

"He'll be back next year better than ever," David said. "I had trouble because they messed up my first surgery. His went fine. He's working hard to rehab. He'll be OK."

The brothers had hoped to face each other when their teams met in a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on Aug. 27 and had already done plenty of trash talking in the rookie diaries they both did.

"I'll get my shot at him some day," David said. "He's not going to get out of it just because he tore up his knee."

And David knew he eventually would have to deal with Kenny ribbing him about the missed tackle. "I'll just tell him to worry about his wooden leg," David said.

SideBar: GWINNETT NFL PLAYERS

Week 3 update on NFL players from Gwinnett County:

Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (Norcross)

Started 99th straight game in 56-21 loss to Philadelphia

Jason Elam, PK, Broncos (Brookwood)

No heroics this time in 23-14 loss to Jacksonville

David Greene, QB, Patriots (South Gwinnett)

Signed to practice squad by New England

Stephon Heyer, OT, Redskins (Brookwood)

Backup in 24-17 loss to the New York Giants

David Irons, CB, Falcons (Dacula)

Played mostly on special teams in 27-20 loss to Panthers

Jon Stinchcomb, OT, Saints (Parkview)

Started against Tennessee Titans on Monday night

Mansfield Wrotto, OG, Seahawks (Brookwood)

Inactive again for 24-21 victory over Cincinnati