Falcons rookies pass crash course in intense camp

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.