Robert Alford played just about everywhere on the field for Southeastern Louisiana University last season, but the Falcons rookie cornerback will concentrate solely on defense this season in Atlanta. (Reuters News Service)
ATLANTA — Falcons rookie cornerback Robert Alford has some lofty goals for himself this season.
If he hits them, that would mean the Falcons’ personnel department hit the football lottery with the 60th pick of the second round of the 2013 NFL draft.
“Every season, I prepare to have goals,” said Alford, a native of Hammond, La. “My goal this year is to get my team to the playoffs and from the playoffs to the Super Bowl and then hopefully be the defensive player of the year.”
Alford, who played at Southeastern Louisiana, has made some bold statements since becoming the first FCS player taken in the 2013 draft, but somehow, his comments don’t come off a brash.
Most rookies want to make the team and contribute. They’re usually not talking about the Super Bowl and the defensive player of the year award.
Alford is a little different. His enthusiasm is refreshing.
“He comes from a good family,” said Ron Roberts, Southeastern Louisiana’s head coach. “He’s very grounded. He’s just a quality person.”
Despite playing at a small school, Alford demeanor stood out at the Senior Bowl. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he could sense right away that Alford belonged there with the players from the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.
He later impressed NFL teams during the scouting combine workouts and interviews.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Roberts said. “I think he was well enough grounded and understood that he belonged.”
At Southeastern Lousiana, Alford played offense, defense and special teams.
“We used him a lot,” Roberts said. “Obviously, we’d match him up with whoever the best guy was. He did punt returns for us. Offensively, we tried to get him five or six plays a game — either we were getting him the ball or using him as a decoy.”
In the exhibition opener against Cincinnati on Thursday night, Alford went in during the second defensive series at left cornerback. It didn’t take long for backup Cincinnati quarterback Josh Johnson to test the rookie.
Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ran a go-route up the sideline, and Alford, who has run the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, was step-for-step with him, and after the ball fell incomplete, he let Sanu know he was blanketed.
“Excellent,” Falcons secondary coach Tim Lewis said. “He did a fantastic job.”
Lewis didn’t even mind Alford running his mouth. He doesn’t want to dampen the rookie’s enthusiasm.
“You can play with excitement,” Lewis said. “You can play with energy. You can be your own personality, but make sure that you know the rules.”
The play against Sanu showed that Alford’s a quick learner. In practice against the Bengals the Monday before the game, Alford put his arm around the waist of a receiver and jostled him while the receiver was trying to get open deep.
Veteran Asante Samuel came over quickly to counsel Alford. He explained that once he gets his jam on the receiver that he has to regain his leverage and run with them. He pointed out that touching the receiver so physically 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage would draw too much attention and a penalty.
“This is a passing league,” Samuel said. “They’ll call that every time.”
Alford appreciated Samuel passing along sage cornerback knowledge.
“Asante is really helping me out a lot,” Alford said. “Coming from college to the pros, there is stuff that you can’t get away with that you got away with in college. Asante is just keeping me level-headed and up on the rules. It feels good to have a veteran like that, a Pro Bowler who’s been in the league a long time to guide you.”
Roberts and his staff visited Alford the first week of training camp. They wanted to show him some support as he tries to make the transition to the NFL.
“They surprised me,” Alford said. “I was in shock when they came down here, but it felt good to have your college coaches come down to your NFL practice and watch you practice. I thanked them for that.”
Alford has been developing since being drafted.
Going against Roddy White and Julio Jones daily has helped the process. The Falcons hoped their young defensive back would get some work against Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green, but Green didn’t make the trip.
“Whoever they put in front of me, that’s who I was going up against,” the self-assured Alford said. “I didn’t notice that A.J. wasn’t coming out. Pretty much, whomever they put in front of me, I was ready to battle and compete.”
Roberts is not surprised that Alford is picking up an NFL defense so fast.
“He soaked everything up like a sponge (at Southeastern),” Roberts said. “He’s a very dedicated and committed guy. He’s going to be very successful.”