Desmond Trufant, the Falcons’ No. 1 pick, could very well be in the starting lineup during opening weekend based on how many reps he’s already getting in minicamp.
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 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.
ROBISKE PROMOTED TO HEAD COACH: Falcons head coach Mike Smith promoted receivers coach Terry Robiskie to assistant head coach/receivers recently.
Robiskie has been with Smith and the Falcons since 2008. He’s been credited with keeping White in a groove and with quickly developing Jones. Both have made trips to the Pro Bowl under Robiskie’s tutelage
Also, former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey often credited Robiskie’s input on some of his successful play-calls.
After Mularkey was hired as Jacksonville’s head coach in 2012, he took ex-quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski with him and wanted Robiskie to join his staff, but the Falcons blocked the lateral move.
Robiskie, 58, played at LSU and was the SEC’s most valuable player and first-team All-SEC running back in the 1970s.
He played five seasons in the NFL for the Raiders and Dolphins. He played for legendary coaches John Madden and Don Shula.
After his playing days, he went on to coach for the Raiders, Redskins, Browns and Miami before joining Smith’s staff. He was an offensive coordinator with the Raiders and the Browns and served as the interim head coach with the Redskins in 2000 and Browns in 2004.
NOTES: Cornerback Asante Samuel did not take part in practice Thursday after he landed awkwardly Wednesday as he broke up a pass. He was on the sidelines with his right ankle taped ... The Falcons turned down the opportunity to appear on the HBO documentary “Hard Knocks” twice, but will make an appearance this season anyway when this year’s featured team, the Cincinnati Bengals, play their preseason opener on Aug. 8 at the Georgia Dome.
“I think you call that a cameo appearance,” Smith said.
Peters ready to live up to hype for Falcons
ATLANTA — Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters remembers the day last offseason when he suffered a stress fracture while working out at a local gym.
The injury, which occurred before the team's offseason workouts started, required surgery and kept him out of the workouts. He also missed the first six games of the regular season.
A year later, Peters, at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, was dancing around offensive linemen Wednesday with the mobility of a massive ballerina at the Falcons' mandatory minicamp.
The foot is fine, and Peters appears ready to fulfill the promise that he flashed in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
"Corey has had an excellent offseason," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Last year, he was not able to do anything on his foot."
As a rookie, Peters, a third-round draft pick, started six of 15 games and had 40 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
He moved into the starting lineup full time in 2011 and made 33 tackles, had three sacks, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a touchdown in 15 starts.
After starting last season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, he struggled. Peters started seven of nine games and finished with 21 tackles, a forced fumble and one pass breakup. He also registered a sack against San Francisco in the NFC Championship game.
This offseason he's looked much quicker and agile during the OTAs and minicamp.
"He looks like the Corey that we saw two years ago in terms of his suddenness and even the makeup in terms of his body," Smith said. "We're excited about having Corey back, and we anticipate that he's going to be even better than he was two years ago."
Peters, who will be in the last year of his original four-year contract, acknowledges that last season was difficult.
"It was really tough because I missed so much time, and I missed a huge part of the offseason," Peters said. "I came back after week six and practiced, but in-season practices are not like training-camp practices.
"It's very difficult to kind of get your reps that you need to get back into shape. I started to feel better toward the end of the year, but overall I felt like last year was a disappointment for me personally."
Peters believes that he has benefited from the team's restructured weight-training program under new head strength-and-conditioning coach A.J. Neibel.
"I know that I'm stronger," Peters said. "I just feel really good about this year. I feel like I'm in a good place now heading into training camp."
He still wants to shed a few pounds.
"I'm probably a little bigger, but around camp I'll be about the same," Peters said. "I'm definitely stronger and feeling quicker. That's a good thing. The new weight program has been really good for me. I think I've already seen increases in every number, and I still have a few weeks to go before I (cutback) for (training) camp."
The Falcons have gone back to more traditional lifts for their linemen, such as the bench press and squats. They also are lifting much more weight.
"I think that's good for the offensive and defensive linemen," Peters said. "But we are also doing some of the same things as far as flexibility training."
Peters and the rest of the defensive linemen have heard about the team's discussions to bring in defensive tackle Richard Seymour, a seven-time Pro Bowler and former Georgia Bulldogs standout.
"It doesn't matter to me," Peters said. "At the end of the day, my job is to go out there and be the best player that I can be. ... I'm welcoming of anything that's going to help us get to the Super Bowl."
Peters doesn't want to dwell on needing to re-establish himself.
"I don't think any more than anybody else, but I'm very aware that this is a league where if you don't perform they're going to find somebody that will," Peters said. "That's no secret."
Peters is not focusing on landing his next contract.
"I'm of the mindset that it's an evaluation process every day," Peters said. "If you don't perform, they are going to get you out of here."
He plans to perform.