FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford aren’t having an easy time learning how to play cornerback in the NFL.
And that’s just fine with Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, who’s been watching the rookies try to defend Roddy White and Julio Jones during a mandatory three-day mini-camp.
Smith said Trufant and Alford are getting valuable experience against two of the league’s best receivers.
“We want to get them ready to play, and the best way is to have them go against really good players,” Smith said. “They’re going against two of the best in the league, and Harry Douglas is not a bad receiver as well. They’re getting their fill.”
The lessons haven’t stopped since Trufant, a first-round pick from Washington, and Alford, a second-round selection from Southeastern Louisiana, were drafted in late April.
Trufant seems to have an advantage after growing up as the younger brother of Marcus Trufant, a free agent after playing 10 years with the Seattle Seahawks, and Isaiah Trufant, who played in nine games with one start for the New York Jets in 2012.
The brothers all play cornerback, a position Desmond Trufant excelled at in starting 47 of 50 games as a four-year starter at Washington.
But life in the NFL brings challenges that Trufant wasn’t ready for when lined up opposite White and Jones, one of the league’s top duos.
“They humbled me, to be honest,” Trufant said.
White last season became just the fifth NFL player with three consecutive years of at least 90 catches and 1,200 or more yards receiving.
Jones was invited to his first Pro Bowl after catching 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns
Jones, who’s accustomed to practicing hard in each drill, believes Trufant and Alford have the skills and mindsets to succeed. But he added that it’s not his job to go easy on the rookies.
“They’re trying,” Jones said with a grin. “But they don’t give up. They give effort. They’ve got heart, and that’s one thing you can’t teach.”
Alford felt fortunate on the first day of mini-camp to beat White on a crossing route.
Quarterback Matt Ryan put the ball in White’s hands, but Alford played the correct technique and was in position to knock the ball to the ground.
Both players were running at full speed, but White kept going after the play was whistled dead. Instead of doing his customary slow lap back up the field following a play, White slammed his hand into the wall of the indoor practice facility and made a crashing noise.
Alford was quick to say that he wasn’t trying to upstage White. He only wanted to break up the pass.
“I think going against Julio and Roddy every day in one-on-ones is getting me better because both of them are Pro Bowl-caliber receivers,” Alford said. “I’m going against the best, and I think that’s the one thing I can do to help me get better as a player.”
Alford is listed behind starting left cornerback Asante Samuel on the depth chart. Trufant is challenging Robert McClain for the starting job at right cornerback.
Samuel, a brash veteran renowned for shouting his confidence in practice, is helping both rookies adjust on the field and in the film room.
“He’s been in the league 10 years,” Alford said. “He’s been to the Pro Bowl. He’s had a bunch of interceptions and a bunch of rings from playing with the New England Patriots. I’m learning a lot from him every day.”
NOTES: Smith announced that training camp will begin July 25 with an afternoon workout that is open to the public. ... He added that the Falcons will not tackle until their annual Friday Night Lights event one week after camp starts. This year’s event is being held at City Park in Gainesville, Ga. ... Samuel (ankle) and S Thomas DeCoud (groin) didn’t participate in the final practice of minicamp for precautionary reasons. Smith said neither injury was serious and he wanted to give some of the younger defensive backs a longer look anyway. ... TE Tony Gonzalez wasn’t required to be at the minicamp — part of his contract to play another season instead of retiring. ... DE Osi Umenyiora was excused from Thursday’s workout after practicing the previous two days. RB Jason Snelling also missed the two-hour practice after the death of his grandmother. ... The only injury concern is rookie DE Stansly Maponga, a fifth-round draft pick from TCU. He is still recovering from March ankle surgery and may be limited at the start of training camp, Smith said. ... FB Bradie Ewing has fully recovered from knee surgery that kept him out all of last season.