FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — For one of the most talkative players around, Asante Samuel doesn’t have much to say when the media are ready to listen. That’s just fine with the Atlanta Falcons, who hope their new cornerback just keeps chatting – and ball-hawking – on the field.
Traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Falcons in April, Samuel has met with local reporters just a few times and he’s been brief in his comments each time. Again, after Tuesday’s training camp practice, he stood still just long enough to start and stop a tape recorder.
Before that, No. 22 was, as always, plenty loquacious on the field. He rarely stops lobbing verbal salvos whether he’s on the field or not.
“All I want to do is make Arthur Blank proud!” he yelled at one point between plays as the Falcons’ owner beamed nearby.
Later, Samuel complained that Atlanta quarterbacks were holding the ball too long before passing when there was no pass rush during a drill. He was counting, even when he wasn’t on the field. “That’s five-Mississippi right there!” he said while a spectator. “You’ve got to let it go at three-Mississippi.” Another time, he warned Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, “You know next time that’ll be a pick.”
And that is precisely what the Falcons are looking for from the 10-year veteran.
The Falcons hope Samuel helps them add a little attitude on defense, particularly on third downs. Atlanta allowed a 44.1 percent conversion rate last season to rank No. 29 in the NFL.
Enter Samuel, who signed a three-year, $14.5 million contract with the Falcons on April 25, the day he was acquired for a seventh-round draft choice in what amounted to a salary dump by the Eagles.
Since 2006, he has intercepted more passes (39) than any player in the NFL. He tied Denver’s Champ Bailey for the league interception lead (10) that season, tied three players for the lead with nine in ‘09, and led the NFL outright with seven in ‘10.
“Unbelievably instinctive. He’s somebody who understands football, and . . . he’s got all the skills to play,” Falcons secondary coach Tim Lewis said. “But what really stands out . . . over and above the rest is his instincts.”
Ah, the skills.
Samuel had a modest three interceptions last season, but to say that he does not buy into the suggestion made recently by a Philadelphia sports writer that team officials believed him to be in, “steep decline,” would be the understatement of training camp so far. It should be noted that no Eagles officials were quoted as saying that; the writer paraphrased it that way.
“No comment,” Samuel said at first. “We’ll see who’s in steep decline.”
That was Samuel’s reference to Oct. 28, when the Falcons will play at Philadelphia __ for whom he played four seasons after joining the Eagles as a free agent in 2008.
Soon after Samuel was acquired by the Falcons, he told the Atlanta media that he rarely speaks with reporters. He’s kept his word.
Tuesday was the first time since training camp opened that he took reporters’ questions, and just the third time in the four months since he joined the Falcons.
Asked about bringing energy to the Atlanta defense, he said, “They’ve been known as nice guys? Well, we’re mean now. We’re a bunch of mean guys with a lot of energy. ... That’s how we roll.”
It’s not yet clear where Samuel will roll with the Falcons.
He has been chiefly used on the left side in his NFL career, which began in 2003 when he was drafted in the fourth round by the New England Patriots. By the end of that season, in which New England cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were injured, Samuel became a starter. He picked up Super Bowl rings with the Patriots in each of his first two seasons.
Brent Grimes was the Falcons’ left cornerback when healthy last season after going to the Pro Bowl in 2010. Dunta Robinson was chiefly the right cornerback.
“We just practice both sides,” Samuel said. “I dropped my pick over there, you know what I mean? Got to get used to that side a little bit. Made a lot of money over there on the left side.”
It’s pretty clear already that Robinson is going to play a great deal in the nickel corner position, but beyond that there remain decisions to be made.
“We’re going to have multiplicity in what we’re doing defensively,” coach Mike Smith said. “Brent’s played both sides. Asante’s played both sides. It’s something that we’re going through as a staff.”
There is very rarely any guesswork required when you hear chatter coming off the field from a player. It’s usually Samuel.
“If you’re not having fun, then you’re just going through the motions,” he said. “Having fun and talking trash, putting the bulls-eye on your chest . . . makes you stand up in the paint.”
There were a couple of times when Samuel jumped offsides Tuesday in response to a wide receiver jumping.
“You’ve got to sell that to the referee or they won’t call it,” he said while defensive teammates pleaded with him to get back onside.
If it’s energy the Atlanta coaches are looking for, Samuel’s bringing it already.
“It generally is a very positive thing because he’s a positive guy. He has a very competitive nature,” Lewis said. “If he ever does cross the line, I’ll let him know. I have a good enough relationship with him they he’ll understand when enough is enough, if something is over the line. He and I have talked about it, and I’m good with it.”
Notes: The Falcons ended practice with three plays of live action on or near the goal line while deploying mostly young players on both sides of the ball, and the offense scored on two of three plays running behind rookie guard Peter Konz. “It brought out the competitive juices in everybody,” Smith said. “They didn’t know it was coming.” . . . Phil Niekro, the 73-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher who played for the Braves from 1964-1983 and again in 1987, was at practice. . . . The Falcons will be off Wednesday and practice Thursday. They will practice Friday at a nearby Peachtree Ridge H.S., which is in the same town — Suwanee — as the Falcons’ former headquarters.