Samuel breaks media silence, pumped for Pats reunion
On Thursday, mercurial Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel broke a self-imposed silence with the media that had been going on since the early stages of training camp.
Samuel had good reason for speaking his mind. On Sunday, he faces the New England Patriots, the club that drafted him and put the veteran cornerback in position to win two Super Bowls (2003-04).
By all accounts, Samuel doesn't hold any ill will against his old team.
"We're pretty cool," Samuel said of his former teammates, as he stood calmly before the cameras and held his hands behind his back. "It's my first home. I was born into the New England system as a rookie and as an NFL player. So, I'm always going to have some love, and a lot of people I know from around there, so that's what it is.
Those respectful words contrast sharply with last season when Samuel unleashed his acerbic wit upon the Eagles, another former team, when they were struggling in a non-playoff campaign — Andy Reid's last as head coach.
In the week leading up to the 2012 matchup with Philadelphia — coinciding with Reid's decision to fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo — Samuel put on his helmet in the locker room to address the gathered cameras.
At the time, Samuel said he wore the helmet because "my personality issues are kickin' in" and then referred to himself by his jersey number, 22, as he addressed the Eagles' defensive woes:
"It's kind of hard when 22's not there. You know, 22 keep things going for you. Just got to deal with it. Make your bed, you've got to lie in it."
By contrast, Samuel's relationship with the Patriots is a mutual lovefest. In a conference call with Atlanta media on Wednesday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said "Asante is as good as any corner in the league."
Brady was also asked if he would have to keep an extra eye out for the four-time Pro Bowler.
"Always," Brady said. "I’ve thrown more interceptions to Asante than probably anybody. He lets you know about it when they're intercepted, too. It usually doesn't last just a week. It's a week, two weeks. But he's a dynamic playmaker. You still see it now. He looks as good as he's ever looked. He's impressive, he's quick, fast.
"He's so instinctive. He's just exactly what you look for in a cover corner. I'm still impressed, I'm always impressed by the way he plays. He looks like he's on top of his game."
As Brady alluded, Samuel's football IQ is off the charts. Either at practice or in a game, Samuel recognizes pass patterns as they develop and isn't afraid to jump a route.
The Falcons media guide has the following passage:
Samuel ranks as one of only 10 cornerbacks in NFL history to record 50 interceptions. Including the postseason, Samuel has returned 10 interceptions for touchdowns, a fact that gave rise to his self-christened Twitter address "pick_six22."
With the Patriots, Samuel relished his practice time against Brady.
"We had a lot of battles," he said. “We go back and forth. We competed a lot. That was one great thing we had over there — we just competed and we loved to be great, he loved to be great, I loved to be great so what better competition is that?”
At 32, the major factor that appears to have slowed Samuel is a rash of injuries over the last two seasons.
He missed all of Week 1 and most of Week 2 before playing 98 percent of the snaps last week againt Miami. That means he ought to be at full health for Sunday night's nationally televised game, as he has mostly managed to avoid landing on the team’s injury report this week, although he was limited in practice on Friday with a recurring thigh injury after practicing fully for the previous two days.
That should work well for Samuel. Unlike so many other players who parrot the notion that each game holds the same meaning, he showed some candor in discussing this one.
"It’s always a little extra when you’re facing one of the greatest,” he said. “Tom Brady and (head coach Bill Belichick), they’ve been doing their thing for a while. They’re a very good team with a lot of good players so we have to come with our 'A' game.”
Last week when going against second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, it appeared that Tannehill rarely threw in Samuel’s direction, perhaps out of fear of the veteran corner’s reputation.
Samuel had one tackle — a sign that Tannehill probably avoided him — but Samuel did manage a pass defended. Meanwhile, nickelback Robert McClain led the Falcons with six tackles and no passes defended and rookie Desmond Trufant, who starts opposite at Samuel at the right corner, posted four tackles and one pass defended.
"Yeah, man, I guess it is what it is," Samuel said. "I've been in the league for a while, so I'm kind of used to not getting too many balls my way. But I'm sure my boy Brady will come at me. He'll have something for me."
Samuel will have something for Brady, as well.