The rule of thumb in the NFL is that certain positions take time to develop. Many will tell you that receivers need 2 to 3 years to fully develop, while QBs really hit their stride around year 3 or 4. Along those same lines, most people will tell you that corners can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years to fully get acclimated to the speed of the NFL. That's why most rookie corners struggle and why veterans are so highly valued.
But if any two rookie corners stood a chance for quick development, it might just be Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Here's why.
Mike Nolan - Master of Development
There was a reason Falcons fans were excited to see Mike Nolan come in as our new DC. First, it was clear that BVG was just not cut out to be a DC at the NFL level (and some would argue at any level). Second, Nolan has a long history of developing great defenses and being a great evaluator and developer of talent.
That became clear during the 2012 season as the Falcons - whose secondary was once a laughing stock - turned in an impressive campaign, with both safeties earning pro-bowl berths. Considering that our best corner - Brent Grimes - went down with injury in the first game, it makes what Nolan did even more impressive.
A disappointing Dunta Robinson played at a respectable level, while Asante Samuel continued his high-level of play. The biggest surprise, though, was the emergence of Robert McClain - a preseason signing that looked insignificant at the time. McClain quickly emerged during the season and in almost no time, leap frogged both Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks to become our primary nickel corner. Additionally, both Owens and Franks seemed to progress to "not horrible" levels of play by the end of the season, with Franks even serving time at safety.
It's clear that Nolan is particularly adept at developing secondaries. There's no reason to think he can't speed up the development of our two rookie CBs.
It still shocks me that we landed this savy veteran for a 7th round pick from the Eagles. All Samuel has done has come in and bring some attitude and leadership to a Falcons defense in desperate need of it. That's not even to mention how he took an active hand in mentoring younger players - becoming an on-the-field coach for a young secondary.
At age 32, it's not clear how much longer Samuel will be able to play at a high level, but his value for the 2013 season cannot be overstated. He will be critical to the development of both Alford and Trufant. He will be a very important piece that helps the players see the field and game speed quicker. His feedback after each series will give them immediate areas of correction that will be supplemented by what the coaching staff will provide afterwards.
In fact, it may be Asante's leadership and mentoring that will be one of the most critical contributions he'll make in 2013. Maybe even more so than his play on the field.
Our Amazing Receiving Corps
In 2002, the movie "The Rookie" came out. It was a story about a former MLB pitcher turned high-school baseball coach who made an amazing return to the league. Part of what was portrayed in that story was how he developed his team. Jimmy Morris would throw 90+ MPH pitches to his team during practice. Those pitches forced his players to develop quickly. By the time other pitchers threw to them, they were so acclimated to the fast balls they had seen in practice, they could hit almost anything.
Just imagine what the camps will be like for Trufant and Alford. They will be practicing against Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. In Roddy, they will see what an elite NFL receiver can do in route running, strength and timing. In Julio, they will be forced to try and keep up with one of the fastest and most athletic receivers in the league. And in Gonzalez, they will face off against one of the greatest tight ends ever. All while these guys are getting balls thrown to them by a Pro-Bowl quarterback known for his accuracy and timing.
These two corners will be baptized by fire during the off-season. How intimidating will a Mike Williams truly be when you've been matched up with Roddy White for 4 weeks? Can a Steve Smith really surprise you with his speed when you've been chasing Julio Jones around Flowery Branch for the entire offseason? Will you really consider Jimmy Graham "uncoverable" when you've matched up against one of the all time greats in Gonzalez?
Asking rookie corners to contribute is normally asking for trouble. And undoubtedly, Trufant and Alford will definitely have some growing pains that fans should prepare themselves for. But they're coming into an organization that is uniquely positioned to develop these men more quickly than maybe any other in the league. Between our veteran defensive coordinator, a great on-field coach in Samuel, and the day to day challenge of facing the best receiving corps in the league, both Trufant and Alford have everything they could ask for to prepare them for their first NFL snaps.