Camp Preview: Cornerbacks finally a strength for the Atlanta Falcons?

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The Falcons begin the 2014 campaign with a young, potentially-great crop of cornerbacks. Impressive rookie seasons by Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have set expectations high, while the group as a whole looks to become a shutdown unit the team can lean on.

Trufant is well on his way to solidifying a reputation as a legitimate lockdown defender. Trufant added muscle this offseason to better compete with the bigger wide receivers of the NFL, eliminating one of his few deficiencies. He enters camp as the unquestioned, number one guy at his position, and could be ready for a monster season.

Alford will now have his first real opportunity to become a full-time starter after the team released veteran cornerback Asante Samuel. Gifted with elite speed and athleticism, the confident second-year cornerback flashes impressive ball skills and press-coverage ability. With a year of experience under his belt, Alford should take a big leap forward after improving his technique this offseason.

Behind likely-starters Trufant and Alford, there’s a wide-open battle for the starting nickel spot, and it’ll be one of the most competitive position battles to watch unfold in camp.

Robert McClain currently holds the edge having started at nickel for the Falcons the past two seasons. He knows Mike Nolan’s defense, and the chemistry he shares with fellow defenders will allow McClain to feel the most comfortable out of the group. McClain looked good in OTA’s, but after a shaky 2013, he will have to show more consistency if he wants to retain his starting job.

Josh Wilson was signed this offseason to compete at nickel, but he also has plenty of experience on the outside. A seven-year veteran, Wilson knows the ins and outs of his position better than his fellow competitors. If he can learn the playbook and pick up Nolan’s defense quickly, he’ll have a real shot at winning a starting nickel role.

Javier Arenas was another nickel corner signed to compete with McClain. Arenas brings two things to the table that give him an advantage while vying for a roster spot: kick return ability, and blitzing capabilities. A former second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, Arenas is still only 26-years old, and his best days could be ahead of him.

Ricardo Allen was the Falcons’ fifth-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. A prototype slot corner at 5’9’’ and 186 pounds, Allen has a ton of upside at the position. He’s instinctive and a natural ballhawk, setting a Purdue school record with four interceptions returned for a touchdown. Though unlikely to win a starting role in 2014, Allen looks like he could be the future of the slot cornerback position for the Falcons.

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