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Samuel leading the way for young cornerbacks

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (22) comes off the field during training camp at the Falcons Training Complex. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (22) comes off the field during training camp at the Falcons Training Complex. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford hang on Asante Samuel’s every word.

They are like two little students trying to learn from the Kung Fu cornerback master.

The Falcons, who released three of their top five cornerbacks this offseason, are counting on Samuel to maintain his level of play, while also hoping his teachings will stick with Trufant and Alford.

“You can always learn from a guy like that,” said Trufant, who the Falcons traded up to select with the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft. “His instincts are off the charts. He plays the ball so well. I’m just going to take whatever I can from him.”

Alford, who was drafted in the second-round (60th overall), also plans to try to learn as much as he can from Samuel.

“He’s a veteran,” Alford said. “He’s been in the league 10 years and has a bunch of interceptions and a bunch of rings from playing with the New England Patriots. Whenever I talk to Asante, I learn a lot from him.”

Samuel has been impressed with the rookies.

“The young guys are doing a good job,” Samuel said. “They’ve got a lot of ability, and they are learning well. They are good kids, and they are excited about being in the NFL.”

Samuel is hoping to have a big season.

“I’m looking for one of the biggest years of my career,” Samuel said. “I’m excited about the team and the way things are looking. I’m just going to continue to keep pushing.”

He believes the defense, which faded down the stretch last season and blew leads of 17 and 20 points in the playoffs, can be much improved.

“One of the big things from last year to this year is that we are (coming) together better,” Samuel said. “That’s just making everything better.”

He played 812 of 1,020 defensive snaps (79.6 percent) and helped lead the group of returning defensive backs - Samuel (five), Thomas DeCoud (six), William Moore (four) and Robert McClain (one) - that amassed 16 interceptions.

Samuel recorded 38 tackles, five interceptions, one touchdown and 18 passes defended. He allowed only 39 completions on 74 targets, according to Stats, LLC.

Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders was an interested onlooker at a recent Falcons’ practice. Sanders studied the Falcons’ rookie cornerbacks.

“I like them,” Sanders said. “They are aggressive corners. They are going to make some mistakes. They are going to do a lot of things right as well.”

Trufant and Alford showed they are not used to the speed of NFL receivers. They both were beat on some deep passes while Sanders watched, but he was not alarmed.

“It’s a maturation process,” Sanders said. “Thank God, (the Falcons) have a great offense that will afford them the chance to mature without every play being a matter of life and death.”

Sanders was fine with Trufant, the team’s top pick, requesting to wear his No. 21 jersey.

“That’s a sign of respect, first and foremost,” Sanders said. “I like the kid. I really do. I like both of them. (Alford) is nice. It’s hard to see which one is the best. You can’t go by where they were drafted at. These guys are on an even keel. They are good young corners. They have a tremendous upside.”