Falcons rookies pass crash course in intense camp
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Mike Smith tested Atlanta Falcons rookies with an overload of information in a short period of time.
The coach said the first-year players survived the test during three practices at the rookie camp. The rookie class, topped by Atlanta’s first two draft picks, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, also showed skills to impress Smith and his staff.
“We gave them a whole bunch the last three days and I think they handled it extremely well,” Smith said after the final session on Sunday. “We wanted to see how they could handle the things mentally and they did a very nice job.”
The draft picks were joined by undrafted rookie free agents signed by the team and first-year players invited for tryouts. It was the start of what Smith said is the “recalibration” of the Falcons roster.
Highlights included the speed of Trufant and Alford, the strength and pass-rush promise of defensive end Malliciah Goodman and the size and good hands of 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo.
Trufant, the first-round pick from Washington, and Alford, the second-round pick from Southeastern Louisiana, needed no introduction. Alford had an 88-yard kickoff return to open the Senior Bowl, and he was denied a touchdown when caught by Trufant.
“I haven’t even said anything yet,” Trufant said with a smile as he looked over at Alford. “I’m about to say something though. It’s all good. He’s a great player and we’re just going to get better together.”
Alford said the two developed “camaraderie” at the Senior Bowl that will be strengthened as they continue to be linked at cornerback and as the Falcons’ top 2013 draft picks.
“We’re always talking football,” Alford said. “Anything we have questions about, we can ask each other and help each other get better.”
Alford’s long return was part of his strong Senior Bowl performance that impressed Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Alford, who returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in his senior season, said he had to give Trufant credit for keeping him out of the end zone on the long kickoff return.
“It was just a play that happened,” Alford said. “He got me. I got a little tired on the long run and he got me.”
By drafting the two cornerbacks, the Falcons established a determination to fill needs in the draft. Dimitroff picked two defensive ends — Goodman and Stansly Maponga — and added more help at defensive back with safeties Zeke Motta and Ishmael Kemal.
Toilolo, meanwhile, towered over the class. He showed good hands in the rookie camp, disproving any thought he is just a big blocking tight end.
Toilolo had 50 catches, including 10 for touchdowns, at Stanford. He will have a year to take notes while playing behind Tony Gonzalez, who plans to retire after the 2013 season.
Toilolo looks like a basketball power forward in football pads.
“He’s hard to miss out there,” Smith said. “He did a nice job improving in his understanding and his route running. I thought he caught the ball well. It’s going to be fun to watch him be mentored by Tony Gonzalez.”
Toilolo, listed at 265 pounds, saw much of his action as a receiver in red-zone situations at Stanford. He said he also spent time as a blocker.
“I think when you’re that size everyone wants to categorize you as a good blocker,” Smith said. “Obviously his efficiency in the red zone is well-documented. When you throw the ball to a guy in the red zone, you want to make sure he’s going to catch the ball. So I think that kind of says what kind of hands he has.”
The Falcons released defensive end John Abraham after the season and signed free agent Osi Umenyiora from the Giants. Goodman has a chance to start with Umenyiora.
Maponga, recovering from a left foot injury, was only an observer during the rookie camp.
Quarterback Sean Renfree, a seventh-round pick from Duke, is recovering from a shoulder injury and couldn’t throw during the camp. Renfree took snaps and made handoffs.
All the passing was handled by undrafted rookie Seth Doege of Texas Tech, and Graham Wilbert, in camp on a tryout from Florida Atlantic.
The Falcons will begin offseason team activities on May 28-30, followed by more work June 4-6 and June 11-14. The team’s mandatory minicamp is June 18-20.