FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Atlanta Falcons' top draft picks, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, are being thrown into the proverbial football frying pan.
Instead of easing the rookies into the offseason action, the Falcons, who must replace three of their top five cornerbacks, had them trying to cover Pro Bowlers Roddy White and Julio Jones on the first day of minicamp.They didn't get much of a break against Harry Douglas and Drew Davis, the No. 3 and 4 four receivers last season, either.
The Falcons let cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens go during free agency. Grimes signed with Miami and Owens with Cleveland. They released Dunta Robinson, who signed with Kansas City.
Asante Samuel returns to man his left cornerback spot. They also have nickel backs Robert McClain and Dominique Franks, who have seen NFL action.
There's a hole on the right side of the defense that the Falcons are hoping Trufant can fill. Alford has a shot at becoming the nickel back and perhaps playing outside in the future.
Jones plans to do his part to help the team develop rookie cornerbacks.
"They are trying," Jones said. "But you have two Pro Bowlers out there, me and Roddy, and we've got Harry Douglas and Drew Davis. We can go out there and make plays and we've been in the offense so long.
"Just having a great quarterback like Matt Ryan, it makes it hard for those guys to come right in. One thing I can say about them is that they give effort. They don't give up. You can see how hard they are going to compete."
Trufant was playing the left side and White got wide open in the middle of the defense. There might have been a miscommunication in the zone defense.
On another play, White got open deep against the fleet Alford but juggled the ball and Alford made the interception.
"When you draft the guys that we drafted early, we are anticipating that they are going to play," coach Mike Smith said. "I think that we believe that they have the skill set to be successful at the corner position. We're going to give them every opportunity to play."
Trufant missed most of the OTA sessions as he finished up his academic work at the University of Washington.
Alford, who played at Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference, has been on hand for much of the offseason program.
"They are going to be getting their training under fire because they are going to be playing against a group of wide receivers that I think are as good as any when you start talking about Julio Jones and Roddy White," Smith said. "Going against those guys every day ... I found out very quickly that those two young men are very competitive."
The Falcons gave up 242.4 yards passing last season, which ranked 23rd in the league.
The Falcons are hoping the two rookies, who both run sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, can help them with tighter man-to-man coverage. They believe the rookies will hold up during their baptism by fire in practice.
"When you've got that competitive drive, it bodes well for you having success in the NFL," Smith said.