The Atlanta Falcons selected Desmond Trufant with the 22nd pick in April's NFL draft.
(Photo: Kevin Liles, USA TODAY Sports)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (USA Today) -- Julio Jones jumped in to lend a hand on defense, intercepting Russell Wilson's Hail Mary heave into the end zone to seal the Atlanta Falcons' 30-28 divisional-round playoff victory against the Seattle Seahawks last season.
Now Jones and fellow Falcons wideout Roddy White are offering a different kind of assistance to their defensive mates, spending much of the summer baptizing rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in a double-barrel trial by Pro Bowl fire.
"I told Desmond and Robert early on, 'We won't bring our level of play down to your level,' " Jones told USA TODAY Sports. "Of course, we're going to beat them. But what I love about both those guys is how they have such a short-term memory.
"They're going to get back out there and compete on the next play. They're very competitive. And they're getting better every day. ... They're going to help our defense out.''
The Falcons traded sixth and seventh-round picks to move up the draft board and select Trufant 22nd overall out of Washington. Then, general manager Thomas Dimitroff doubled down by selecting Southeastern Louisiana's Alford in the second round in an effort to replace the departures of Dunta Robinson, who was released, and Brent Grimes, who wasn't re-signed.
"We moved up eight spots to take Desmond because we felt he was worth it, and we were honestly considering taking Robert at No. 30 overall if Desmond was gone,'' Dimitroff told USA TODAY Sports. "We're excited about having both these guys on our team.
"They are embracing the challenge of going against one of the best wide receiver tandems in this league with an element of confidence and swagger you rarely see in rookies. ... We need these two rookie corners to be a big part of our secondary for us to go where we want."
Trufant and Alford are speedy, physical players with the ability to play press-man coverage in coordinator Mike Nolan's multiple scheme. The ball-hawking Trufant is slated to start opposite veteran Asante Samuel, while Alford will likely play the slot corner role against three-wide receiver sets.
"I've definitely improved going against them every day,'' Trufant says of sharpening his craft against Jones and White. "If Julio and Roddy see us tipping our techniques or giving things away with bad eyes, they're giving us tips. They're showing us the little tricks they use to beat the elite corners in this league.''
Trufant and Alford clicked at the Senior Bowl, and they feed off each other's precocious confidence.
"A lot of people think just because I come from a Division I-AA school, they think that's what type of player I am," Alford says. "But I come with a lot of confidence and bring a lot of swagger when I'm on the field. ... I feel like I'm the best. And I feel I can cover whoever they put in front of me.''
Dimitroff, who grew up in Canada and played cornerback for the University of Guelph in Ontario, smiles when recalling Trufant's private workout for the Falcons.
"We loved the fact he was a team captain and his family background with both his brothers playing cornerback in the league,'' Dimitroff says of Trufant, whose brothers (Marcus, Jacksonville Jaguars and Isaiah, New York Jets) are both currently on NFL rosters. "As far as Desmond's ability to move around with explosiveness and urgent athleticism that we covet, he was one of the best workouts I've witnessed during my days working out players in the secondary.''
And Alford wasn't very far behind in terms of talent.
"There aren't too many teams where Desmond and Robert are going to face two receivers of our stature,'' Jones says. "I try to talk to them every day about what they're doing well and what they need to work on.
"We're just trying to help get those guys better because the sky is the limit for them. They're going to be two of the elite corners in this league.''
A team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations needs that to happen sooner rather than later.