FLOWERY BRANCH — So much for Atlanta having to worry about playing time for three top cornerbacks. The Falcons lost one of them in their very first game.
Brent Grimes is out for the year after an Achilles tendon injury in a 40-24 win at Kansas City, coach Mike Smith said Monday.
Grimes left in the fourth quarter with what was initially described as a calf injury. After an MRI, it was determined he will need surgery for a torn Achilles, costing Atlanta one of its best coverage players just as the team is beginning preparations to host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a prime-time game.
It wasn't immediately clear how Grimes was hurt or even which leg he injured.
"Obviously it hurts our depth anytime you lose a player of that caliber," Smith said. "Brent has made a number of big plays since we've been here. He's been the cornerstone at that corner position, on both the left and right side. We've got to have that next-man-up mentality. That's how we have to approach it."
The Falcons appeared to have a wealth of depth at that position after trading for four-time Pro Bowler Asante Samuel during the offseason. In fact, some wondered how the Falcons would keep everyone happy, since they already had Grimes and Dunta Robinson at the corner spots.
New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan planned to make it work by moving Robinson inside and going with a nickel package most of the time, which was evident in the first game. The Falcons started all three corners and used their base defense — two corners and Akeem Dent at middle linebacker — on just 11 snaps.
Now, the luxury of having three top cornerbacks in the pass-happy NFC South is gone.
"We felt like adding a corner gave us three number one cornerbacks," Smith said. "Unfortunately, after the first game, we've had an injury. We'll have to adjust and we will adjust. Some guys will get an opportunity to play. I know they're looking forward to it and I know they will go out and complete."
But the Falcons have no one on the bench who can match Grimes' skills. He was a Pro Bowler in the 2010 season and got the franchise tag this past offseason when he couldn't agree on a new contract, receiving a salary of $10.2 million.
Christopher Owens seems most likely to step up, but he's yet to live up to what the Falcons expected after picking him in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft. The only other cornerbacks on the roster are Robert McClain, who is with his third team in three years, and Dominique Franks, who was actually cut by Atlanta during the preseason but was brought back before the opener.
Suddenly, a strong point looks vulnerable.