Falcons rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant has his work cut out for him in his first NFL game Sunday when he has to face future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees of the Saints. (Reuters News Service)
FLOWERY BRANCH — There was little chance that Drew Brees was going to be too honest because what’s the point of hinting at the game plan or giving the Falcons and Desmond Trufant any motivation?
So Brees wouldn’t say it’s typical for NFL teams to target rookie cornerbacks such as Trufant. For the real answer, watch how Brees and the Saints go after Trufant in the season opener Sunday in New Orleans.
“He’s a rookie,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “He better expect it.”
Trufant knows what’s coming. He talked about it after the Falcons’ final exhibition game. He saw how the Titans attacked teammate and fellow rookie cornerback Robert Alford earlier in the exhibition season.
There’s a chance the same thing could happen to Trufant on Sunday. There would be no shame in it: Brees is a Super Bowl MVP headed to the Hall of Fame one day, and wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore are both good veteran players with the ability to strike for big plays.
But the game also offers Trufant the opportunity to start bolstering his reputation. If he holds his own against the Saints, future opponents will see that the Falcons’ rookie starter is legit.
“That’s the plan,” Trufant said, smiling. “You’ve got to earn your respect. That’s what I plan on doing.”
Trufant has been in a similar situation. He was still a few days shy of his 19th birthday when he started for the University of Washington in his debut. The opponent was 11th-ranked LSU.
“I just remember it was real loud, everything was going fast,” Trufant said. “But I was cool. I calmed down after a while after I got my first tackle.”
The similarities don’t go too far, though.
LSU’s quarterback was Jordan Jefferson, now in the Arena Football League. One of his receivers, Brandon LaFell, is a solid player for the Panthers, but that was it as far as LSU’s NFL-caliber talent at the skill positions.
Further, Trufant’s Huskies had suffered 14 consecutive defeats before his arrival and lost to the Tigers that day in Seattle. The Falcons have Super Bowl aspirations, with Trufant as a key part of their plans.
The Falcons traded up in the draft to select Trufant with the No. 22 pick, gave him a $4.3 million signing bonus and immediately made him a starter at a position where they desperately need him to be effective. His first assignment is on the road against a division rival with a big-play offense.
“I’ve gotten the nerves out with the preseason,” Trufant said. “It’s obviously going to be a different speed (because) it’s the regular season, but I’m not nervous.”
If Trufant has an edge over most cornerbacks, it’s that he won’t face many better wide receivers than he’s defended since the start of training camp. The Falcons’ duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White can make a strong case for being the best in the league.
Trufant gained a reputation for being an aggressive cover man in college. That style of defense in particular will be challenging in the NFL, where the wide receivers are bigger, stronger and craftier.
Jones, one of the biggest and strongest, dismissed the notion that Trufant might struggle to be physical with NFL receivers.
“The transition from college to this level of play, I don’t think it will be a big deal for Trufant,” Jones said.
Trufant already had an idea of what the NFL would be like because his brothers Marcus and Isaiah played in the NFL. Trufant said he still was a bit taken aback by “the overall talent level at each position in the NFL.”
Trufant was the third conerback selected in the draft, so the expectation is that he will develop into one of the best at his position.
“He’s a competitive guy,” Nolan said. “He’s talented. He’s very smart. Intelligence never hurts you on the outside because if (opponents) keep doing the same things to you, typically, if you are smart enough, you can fix it.”
Brees and the Saints are going to find out if Trufant needs to fix anything. Trufant said he’s ready.
“I’m going to be confident,” Trufant said. “I know that’s just part of being a rookie.”