Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) is shown during training camp at the Falcons Training Complex last week. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)
FLOWERY BRANCH — When the final whistle blew Friday Asante Samuel started shouting.
The Falcons veteran cornerback had just watched Matt Ryan combine with receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones to pick on rookie cornerback Robert Alford for two deep touchdowns. He implored head coach Mike Smith for just one more play with him on the field to no avail.
Alford, a second-round pick in the most recent draft and fellow defensive back and first-round pick Desmond Trufant both saw plenty of reps with the first team. It’s a tribute the quality of the pair that they get so many reps against the team’s best QB and receivers.
In a drill earlier in the practice, Trufant came up with an interception of Ryan.
“I’ll be honest, it pissed me off,” Ryan said of the interception.
But Ryan and Smith both praised the efforts of the two rookie cornerbacks in their second full practice.
“As I said yesterday, those young corners they are going to be learning under fire,” Smith said. “Every play is going to be a learning experience for them and they have to put the previous play behind them and move on to the next one.”
Stocked with a newly extended quarterback and a posse of wide receivers, the Falcons clearly attempted to address a need and weakness from last season. In taking Trufant and Alford, the management addressed a pass defense that ranked 23rd in the league a season ago and throwing the two rookies up against last season’s sixth-best passing offense is the best way for them to learn — even if they give up a long pass or two.
“That’s what a corner has to do (forget the last play, good or bad),” Smith said. “They are going against the two best wide receivers in the NFL.”
Ryan wouldn’t commit to targeting Trufant with his top two targets, opting instead to note the play he saw from the defense prior to the rookie reminder.
“That’s kind of the way practice was scripted to have some deep balls through the end,” Ryan said with a sly smile. “They are doing a great job. That’s part of playing that position, you are going to be beat from time to time, especially against the guys that we have. They made some plays out there today.”
Entering his seventh season with the Falcons, Ryan, a rookie starter, knows better than anyone the impact first-year players can make. Gone, he says, are the days of rookie hazing.
“You can’t do it anymore,” Ryan said. “The way we are built, the way this league is built, you need rookies to come in and contribute and they need to feel a part of the team as early as they can. They are still going to pick up the checks on certain things, but we are going to make them feel as much a part of this team as we can.”
Part of belonging is getting the best the offense has. Something Alford got a double dose of at the day’s end.
“You try and break them in on the practice field a little bit,” Ryan said.